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Emma Stone prepares to turn this parking lot into a dance floor in "Kinds of Kindness."

You’ve noticed that all of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films have a dance break. Sometimes it’s hilarious, like Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo tearing up the dance floor in Poor Things. Sometimes it’s horrifying, like Mary Tsoni imitating the moves from Flashdance in Dogtooth. Sometimes it’s haunting, like Ariane Labed watching couples slow dance in Alps. They all serve a purpose, because they give you a break to figure out what the hell Lanthimos is going on about while you watch his actors move their bodies.

His latest, Kinds of Kindness, has Stone finding a woman who can reverse death (yeah, more on that later) and shaking her ass cathartically in a motel parking lot to the sounds of COBRAH’s “Brand New Bitch.” It’s one of the highlights of this massive anthology film set in contemporary Louisiana. Sadly, I think this is the least of his movies, along with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Like that earlier film, it still has some remarkable things in it, but 164 minutes of Lanthimos unfiltered proves to be a step too far.

The movie is divided into three sections with the same actors playing different characters. Two things link the stories: a mysterious mute guy named R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos) and the theme of what we’re willing to do just because other people tell us to do it. That last is a pet theme of Lanthimos’; Poor Things is an outlier in that it’s about someone breaking free of control. The first section, “The Death of R.M.F.”, has a man named Robert (Jesse Plemons) who takes detailed instructions each day from his boss Raymond (Willem Dafoe) about what to eat, what to wear, and when and who to have sex with. Robert eventually balks when Raymond asks him to kill R.M.F., and Raymond releases him from control, but Robert finds life with free will intolerable. I’m surprised that the filmmakers don’t use Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” in this segment. The escalating violence and lunacy don’t result in a payoff that makes any sort of sense, just Margaret Qualley singing a tuneless version of “How Deep Is Your Love.”

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The same goes for the second and weakest segment, “R.M.F. Is Flying,” has Plemons portraying a cop named Daniel whose marine biologist wife Liz (Stone) has been shipwrecked on a desert island. She’s brought back as the lone survivor, and when he asks her what she ate there, she answers, “Food.” He wisely does not delve deeper into that one, but he becomes convinced that the woman is an impostor who has replaced Liz. Lanthimos’ deliberate weirdness becomes a tic here — when Daniel seeks comfort by watching a videotape of his and Liz’ happy times together with their friends (Mamadou Athie and Qualley), you just know that the tape is going to be of an orgy involving all four of them. As Daniel shoots an unarmed white guy (Joe Alwyn) during a routine traffic stop, Plemons’ increasingly unhinged performance carries the segment.

Plemons walks off with the acting honors here even though Stone dominates the third and strongest segment, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” She portrays Emily, a member of a cult where all members, male and female, have sex with either the leader (Dafoe) or his wife (Hong Chau). When that’s not happening, Emily is off on a quest to find a woman she saw in a dream who can bring the dead back to life. The qualifications are pretty stringent: This person needs to have an identical twin sister who is dead and needs to have a particular body weight and breast size. Lanthimos does not skimp on the torture that Emily undergoes when the cult kicks her out for being “contaminated” by her estranged ex-husband (Alwyn), who initially seems like he just wants to make his family whole again and turns out to be totally evil. Even so, the segment works best as a very dark joke, with Emily finding the woman in question (Qualley) only to kill her golden goose before it even gets a chance to lay an egg. This is where Lanthimos’ absurdist humor comes through in full force, and it’s good to have. However, it could have made its point in less time, much like his earlier films did. Kinds of Kindness is the sort of epic a filmmaker makes when he’s found mainstream acceptance and can truly blow it out, and it also shows the limits to Lanthimos’ vision.

Kinds of Kindness
Starring Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. Rated R.

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