Kinds of Kindness: Emma Stone’s macabre, mischievous triptych is mind-bendingly brilliant

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in Kinds of Kindness
Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in Kinds of Kindness - Atsushi Nishijima

Poor Things only opened in cinemas in January, so you might imagine that Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos would have given themselves some time off. Yet barely two months after Stone won an Oscar for the role, here they both are in Cannes, for the premiere of a film they shot in New Orleans during a two-month break in the Poor Things edit and which the Greek director later completed – well, who knows? Maybe on weekends.

Then again, perhaps this macabre and mischievous US-set triptych was the time off. It certainly has a rompy group holiday feel, as Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe and a handful of others role-switch their way through a trio of tragic tall tales, which turn the big existential questions into feed lines for grisly cosmic jokes.

What gives us purpose? Why do we love? Where can we find deeper meaning in this life? Answers given here include, but are not limited to, staged road traffic accidents, a pan-fried thumb, and Dafoe striding around in a pair of tangerine Speedos.

Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthimis Filippou don’t neatly link these stories together, though common threads and themes run through all three. Collectively, however, they seem to point towards a larger secret plot – centred on a man (Yorgos Stefanakos) we know only by the initials RMF – that remains tantalisingly just out of reach.

A huge part of the fun is getting caught in the mesh of mind games the film sets for its audience – for instance, RMF’s fate suggests the stories aren’t being told in chronological order, and even finding him in one is like spotting an Easter egg. But it’s also a treat just to watch the well-picked ensemble show off their range in the constantly rotating supporting roles, while Stone and Plemons take turns to play lead.

In the first section, Plemons is a nervous businessman under the thumb of Dafoe’s Lynchian mogul; in the second he’s the beat cop (and keen wife-swapping) husband of Stone’s maritime researcher, who returns from a shipwreck oddly changed. In the third, Stone comes to the fore as a recruiter for an oddball cult led by Dafoe, who has her and Plemons out on the road, searching for a prophesied saviour with very specific nipple geometry.

This last section is initially hard to get the measure of – though as in Lanthimos’s earlier works, like Dogtooth and Alps, that’s the idea. Kinds of Kindness often puts off explaining exactly what its characters are trying to do, which makes their behaviour the focus over their aims, as they navigate bizarre and inscrutable scenarios in deeply recognisable ways. Meanwhile, an angular piano-driven score by Poor Things’ composer Jerkin Fendrix echoes their torment in nervy plonks and plinks, as cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s stylish ultra-wide framing keeps their plights at a dry, arch remove.

As for kindness itself, I can’t say much jumped out on a first viewing, unless it was of the you-have-to-be-cruel-to-be sort. But it’s exactly the sort of film that makes you want to look again.


Cert tbc, 164 mins. Screening at the Cannes Film Festival. A UK release has yet to be announced

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