Starring: Zoe Kazan, Tahar Rahim, Caleb Landry Jones, Andrea Riseborough, Jay Baruchel, Bill Nighy
A 'network narrative' tells a story that connects seemingly unrelated characters, who find themselves inherently linked in one given situation. The romantic staple of the genre is Love Actually, a film that promotes the pithless virtues and vices of falling in and out of love at Christmastime. Against a more tragic backdrop, Alejandro González Iñarritú's drama Babel explores the lives of strangers affected by disaster without borders.
Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers shares characteristics of both, with a romantic and tragic network narrative in New York City. But as charmingly well-intentioned as this narrative is, it is unfortunately also tone deaf.
A cold winter in the Big Apple connects a splintered group of lonely adults. The season offers unexpected opportunities at first, as Marc (Tahir Rahim), fresh out of prison, celebrates his freedom with his lawyer, John Peter (Jay Baruchel), in the restaurant owned by Timofey, played by Bill Nighy with a confusing accent. Jeff, a lonely twenty something (Caleb Landry Jones), crosses paths with Timofey and finds some kind of refuge.
All four men intersect with Alice, a selfless multi-hyphenate; Andrea Riseborough plays the nurse who works in a soup kitchen, and also runs a therapy group. But the film mostly orbits around Clara, a young mother played with buoyant likability and desperation by Zoe Kazan. She’s on the run from an abusive husband, but tells her two young sons they’re on vacation, taking in the sights of the city.
Kazan deftly balances optimism and desperation, entertaining her children while suffering the devastating reality of a precarious and freezing winter. Rahim offers pleasant charm as Marc, who helps Clara as much as he can. Elsewhere, the pairing between Alice and Jeff is clumsy, but shows off the effortful empathy of these two actors.
Caleb Landry Jones and Andrea Riseborough play Jeff and Alice in The Kindness of Strangers
If the performances just about hold weight, the logic of the film’s narrative is irretrievably slippery. Every different plot twist clashes with the next, resolving itself to make time for whichever bizarre event manifests out of thin air. This reveals The Kindness of Strangers to be no more than a cacophony of anxieties and tonal disparities.
The story aims for high stakes, as Scherfig explores injustice that doesn’t always offer an easy way out. Homelessness comes to the fore, while domestic abuse and gaps in the moral conduct of the US police force also feed the narrative. But every new idea shouts out loud, in absurd and unnatural dialogue, leaving nothing more than a sense of confusion and flat-out deflation.
It’s difficult to reprimand a film with such harmless, even actively admirable intentions – the title is winked at repeatedly, revealing how easily tragedy can strike and how it's essential to care for one another. But the sequence of events suggests that miraculous solutions are also inexplicably easy to come across. Menace is tidily taken care of, friendship and romance are assigned arbitrarily, and every confusing and underwhelming point of intrigue is neatly tied up in a forgettable, inconsequential bow.
Reviewed at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. The Kindness of Strangers is yet to receive a public release date.
|What||The Kindness of Strangers review|
07 Feb 19 – 18 Feb 19, PUBLIC RELEASE DATE TBC
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
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