Emma Stone forays into fearlessness

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If our world should one day cease to exist, and some improved civilization from another galaxy stumbles upon our popular culture and seeks to understand all the fuss about Emma Stone—well, we now have the film clip they should see. She’s not even speaking, so translating Earth language won’t be an issue. She’s simply dancing. It’s toward the end of her latest collaboration with Yorgos Lanthimos, the challenging, intriguing, perplexing-if-not-downright-infuriatingly-opaque “Kinds of Kindness.” Stone is doing an improvised victory dance, and it’s glorious.

What’s clear is that the Stone-Lanthimos pairing, in their third feature together, continues to nurture an aspect of Stone’s talents that increasingly sets her apart: her fearlessness and the obvious joy she derives from it. Then again, it’s possible we especially love this scene because by now we’re parched—thirst is actually a theme of the film, but let’s forget that for a second—for a wee bit of joy. There’s barely an ounce of it in “Kinds of Kindness,” nor is there much beauty (unlike the gorgeous period romps many know Lanthimos best for, “The Favourite” and last year’s sumptuous “Poor Things.”) Nor is there any recognizable kindness to speak of—“recognizable” being the operative word here. Which might be the point of the title. Or not.

So what is “Kinds of Kindness”? OK, here goes. Lanthimos, working for a fifth time with screenwriter Efthimis Filippou (“The Lobster”), has created a triptych—three mini-films with the same cast. A solidifying troupe of Lanthimos regulars appears, with Willem Dafoe, one of the most distinctive actors in the universe, rejoining Stone’s Bella from “Poor Things,” joined now by a terrific Jesse Plemons, who won the best actor prize at Cannes, as well as Hong Chau, Margaret Qualley, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn. These three segments, which together run close to three hours, are separate stories with different characters and an overarching theme that can best be explained by parsing the lyrics of a Eurythmics song.

“Sweet dreams are made of this,” goes the iconic song, with which Lanthimos begins his movie. Then, more importantly: “Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused.” Yup, all these things happen in “Kinds of Kindness,” a meditation on our free will and the ways we willingly forfeit it to others—in the workplace, at home, and in religion. For all these characters, something about being subjugated by someone else provides a perverse sense of comfort.

In the first segment—easily the tightest, most entertaining, and impactful—our protagonist, Robert (Plemons), works for some sort of shady business run by Raymond (Dafoe), who controls everything Robert does. By Jocelyn Noveck (AP)

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