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.