THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Director Lone Scherfig’s output has been one of hits, such as the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age tale An Education and her British women in wartime saga Their Finest, and misses such as One Day and The Riot Club. Her current offering, The Kindness of Strangers, is somewhere in between, mostly because of a capable cast of actors, topped by Zoe Kazan as Clara, a young mother who runs away from Buffalo to New York City to save her sons from their father, an abusive cop who gets off on violence. With little means to support herself and no safe haven that she can afford for her kids save for libraries, she does what the title says – she reaches out to average citizens who just happen to be do-gooders.

There is a genre of films influenced by the likes of Magnolia and Crash where average people randomly meet and have an effect on the lives of others. In Clara’s case there is a nurse (Andrea Riseborough) who bears the burden of running a self-help group and working at a shelter for the homeless. Clara also runs into an awkward lawyer (Jay Baruchel), who helps her build a custody case, as well as his most recent client (Tahar Rahim), an ex-con who works at a Russian restaurant. The most unlikely and annoying character is Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones) as a hapless dolt who is incapable of doing anything with his life. At least the always marvelous Bill Nighy provides some droll observations as the owner of the restaurant.

Rather than tie these random folks together by their ability to help one another, they seem more connected by their suffering, bad decisions and big city anonymity. The best thing about The Kindness of Strangers is that it is very much a product of our current situation when it comes to the chaotic state of the world we live in. Sometimes we get the downer movies we deserve.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kindness of Strangers is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for February 21, 2020

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.