The Kindness of Strangers

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Kindness of Strangers Movie Poster Image
Lives interconnect in slow-paced drama with brief violence.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film's sympathy is clearly with its underdog characters, each of whom gets ending they deserve. Promotes compassion and kindness to others. But narrative's slow pace and less realistic aspects make positive messages less effective.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters make many hard-to-understand decisions, including parent who runs away from abusive marriage without money or plan (shelters exist!). But people do show each other kindness and compassion, like those who allow Clara to crash in their house or places of business. Alice is extremely charitable toward others but doesn't always take the best care of herself. Marc is frequently terribly rude to others, but John Peter and Timofey both exhibit compassion toward those who need it. A main character steals, which the drama seems to view as justified (it isn't). 

Violence

Violence is infrequent, but in one scene a young boy is found almost frozen (he survives after long bout in hospital), and one character beats another bloody and unconscious. A father is abusing his wife and sons; viewers don't see the abuse, but it's referred to frequently. Characters are often upset and afraid. Yelling.

Sex

A sweet kiss and lingering hug are shown. Characters talk about sex. In one scene, someone who looks to be a sex worker leaves a man's home while he tells her to "scrub up" next time. One character offers to have sex with another due to sympathy (she doesn't take him up on it). Characters are looking for romance; one couple slowly falls in love over course of movie. 

Language

Very infrequent. Includes "shut up."

Consumerism

Mention of a couple of shoe brands (Prada, Florsheim). A character steals high-end goods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

More than one character smokes cigarettes. In many scenes, characters drink beer, wine, champagne, liquor. People rarely look drunk, except in one scene in which a group of men drinks "all night." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Kindness of Strangers is a slow-moving drama about six people whose lives connect in unexpected ways. There are a few startlingly disturbing moments: A young boy is found unresponsive in the snow (he survives), and one character beats another in the head with a rotary phone until he's bloody and unconscious. There's also a scary cop dad who abuses his young sons and wife; viewers don't actually see the abuse, but it's referred to a number of times, and he's a menacing character throughout the movie. Several characters smoke cigarettes, and many scenes take place in a restaurant, with characters drinking champagne and liquor. Romantic moments are confined to a hug and a brief kiss, but characters do talk about sex -- like when a man offers to have sex with a woman just to break her no-sex streak, despite the fact that she's not his "type." Characters run into each other in implausible ways and make hard-to-justify decisions, which make the movie's positive messages about empathy and compassion less effective, but each character gets the end he or she deserves, which has a redemptive quality. 

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What's the story?

Six lives interconnect in THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, a Manhattan-set drama. Clara (Zoe Kazan) is on the run from her abusive husband, while Alice (Andrea Riseborough) is reaching a breaking point from the stresses of her job as an emergency nurse. Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones) first loses a series of jobs, then his apartment, while Marc (Tahar Rahim) struggles to get his life back together after a stint in prison. John Peter (Jay Baruchel) is lonely and in need of friends, and Timofey (Bill Nighy) wants his stagnating restaurant to find its footing. 

Is it any good?

Overly long and alternately drearily realistic and implausible, this slow-burn drama at least has a great cast and a redemptive ending. But it's kind of a drag watching The Kindness of Strangers' characters suffer for almost two hours and make silly mistakes before they get the endings they deserve. Kazan at least makes Clara's iffy decisions seem desperate and agonizing; it's harder to explain why Alice starts calling in sick to work and Jeff can't seem to hold a job for longer than a week -- and it's awful to watch his employers criticize him harshly on the way out. "You're pretty bad at just about everything," says one. "Name one thing that you are good at." C'mon, even if things eventually look up, no one wants to watch a downed dog be kicked repeatedly. 

There's some lovely camera work (long shots of Toronto and Copenhagen mimicking New York in particular), and, despite the slow pace, you do wind up caring about the lives of the strangers who (often improbably) connect. Nighy, always a hoot, continues his streak here. In one of the movie's best moments, he brings a meal to a pair of restaurant patrons and then, turning away to head back to the kitchen, mistakes a very personal question as directed at him and gives a startling answer. Nighy brings a little lightness whenever he's on-screen, and this movie could use all it can get. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why a lot of movies are set in New York. What does the city symbolize in movies? What about in The Kindness of Strangers? Would it surprise you to know that Toronto and Copenhagen were the principal places this movie was filmed? 

  • The movie's characters connect on many different levels. Which seem realistic and/or believable? What events and meetings seem less believable?

  • Talk about how these characters show compassion for each other. Why do you think that's an important character strength

Movie details

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