REVIEW: "I CARE A LOT" ON NETFLIX
J Blakeson's darkly comic crime thriller "I Care a Lot" is a nasty movie about cruel people who do terrible things, but there's a satirical bent which at least partly lets the viewer off the hook. We're not ENJOYING these dirty deeds along with our nefarious protagonists; we're laughing at their excess, and seeing how the brutality of the zero-sum capitalist system in which we all live has pushed these people to the edge. In some ways, this is like a female con artist take on Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," though I think it lacks some of that film's sharpness and clarity.
Rosamund Pike stars as Marla Grayson, who has turned a particularly mean-spirited con into a big business. She zeroes in on seniors with nest eggs, and via connections with shady geriatric doctors, has them legally declared unable to care for themselves. After getting appointed as legal guardian for her targets, Marla is free to lock them away in care facilities, sell their homes, and drain their bank accounts to pay for her "services." She runs the business along with her girlfriend Fran (Eiza González), and all is going swimmingly until she sets her sights on Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist), an independently wealthy older woman with no living family members. But unfortunately for Marla, Jennifer DOES have someone who cares deeply about her: a psychotic smoothie-loving gangster played by Peter Dinklage.
As a darkly satirical comedy, "I Care a Lot" works pretty well. Pike and Dinklage both totally commit to this alternately silly and intense underworld, and Blakeson manages to build on his central conflict and up the ante throughout, without the essentially simple narrative (two bad people hate each other) becoming stale. One particularly interesting insight: though we in the audience are (at least theoretically) repulsed by Marla's fiendish plan, a whole lot of people around her know about what she's doing, and don't even try to put a stop to it. Obviously, there immediate financial beneficiaries from the scheme: her employees, crooked doctors, and care facility administrators aren't going to shut off a viable revenue stream. But the movie is also filled with bystanders who could also bring an end to Jennifer's suffering if they only cared just a bit more, or were paying any attention. But they don't; it's apathy all the way down. It's true, in a way, that Marla succeeds in her line of work because she "cares" in a world where no one else does. Not for her wards, of course, but about her plan and about success. She cares enough to pay attention, while much of the world has given up and tuned out.
There is, however, another thread running through "I Care a Lot," and I'm not sure it comes through quite as cleanly. This is also clearly a film about gender, with Marla and her gangland adversary entering into a kind of "battle of the sexes" that really boils down to whether or not this under-estimated, determined, and resourceful woman can outwit an arrogant and over-confident man. With Pike in the leading role as our scheming lady, you can't really help but be reminded of David Fincher's "Gone Girl," a better film with tighter storytelling that, I think, has a lot more to say specifically about the relationships between men and women.
Here, it feels a bit like Blakeson is playing Marla's story as a "girlboss" narrative, where we root for her because she's sticking it to the patriarchy, and it's just never completely convincing. (For one, her main victim throughout is an older woman, so it's not like some satisfying moral victory against toxic masculinity or whatever.) This angle, as with a final sequence that I don't think is completely earned, feels calculated. A way to tie things up neatly and make Marla a more accessible and conventionally likable character. (Essentially, she's non-fantasy "Maleficent." Not EVIL, but out for REVENGE because of how men have ruined the world.)
I just think the economic and social critique -- seeing both Pike and Dinklage's characters as the inevitable result of the cutthroat American way of life in 2021 -- is much stronger. But it's an interesting, entertaining movie with a lot on its mind and two compelling lead performances nonetheless.
Title: "I Care a Lot"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Running time: 118 minutes
Genre: Dark comedy/Crime thriller