By Alex McPherson
Featuring an incredible lead performance from Rosamund Pike, “I Care A Lot” is a darkly comedic roller coaster ride from start to finish.
Marla Grayson (Pike) bases her life around taking advantage of senior citizens through fraudulent guardianships. In an unforgiving world, she believes only the most cutthroat will succeed. Once she or her girlfriend, Fran (Eiza González), finds a well-off elder, Marla acquires court permission to install herself as their “legal guardian.” She then takes charge of their finances and imprisons them in a care facility where they’re cut off from the outside world — all the while draining the poor saps of their money and sense of self.
Suffice it to say, Marla is a stone cold sociopath. She exerts a palpable influence on those around her and rarely loses control of any situation she’s in. When she targets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), Marla garners the attention of Jennifer’s donut-loving son, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who also happens to be a sadistic drug smuggler. Marla and Fran must reckon with the deadly consequences.
With shades of “Sorry to Bother You” and “Uncut Gems” sprinkled throughout, director J Blakeson’s film makes up for its lack of substance with memorable characters and an unpredictable plot.
Indeed, there aren’t many sympathetic folks in this story of greed, opportunism, and the American Dream. Viewers looking for people to root for won’t find any here. On the other hand, much of the fun of “I Care A Lot” comes from watching them destroy each other in a bloody battle of wits. As the stakes escalate for Marla and Fran, the film only grows more entertaining — not holding up to much scrutiny, but clever enough to leave a lasting impression.
Marla is a cunning, calculating, and compulsive individual. She’s able to shift personas on a whim to match different situations, always aware of her manipulative power and unflinching in the face of threats to her personal safety. These threats are usually toothless, until now. Pike absolutely dominates the screen, capturing her character’s heartlessness in a way that dares viewers to question her strength. Marla will snatch any opportunity to increase her wealth, always planning two steps ahead of her competition. It’s undeniably satisfying watching her pull strings for her personal gain — her razor-sharp dialogue simultaneously humorous and disheartening.
A troubled past is alluded to, but Blakeson doesn’t give Marla an involved backstory. Rather, she is an enigma who nevertheless cares deeply for her lover, Fran. This bond, though underdeveloped, gives Marla a shred of humanity despite her vile behavior.
The film’s clean, glossy shot compositions early on reflect Marla’s mastery of an amoral system disguised by artificial warmth. Later on, however, we’re able to see Marla stripped of her safety and command of the proceedings. The film’s style changes accordingly, evocative of a graphic novel and the volatile figure at the heart of it.
Marla’s a compelling antihero, earning some hard-earned respect by the film’s conclusion, but always remaining emotionally distanced. The other characters aren’t nearly as interesting, but there’s still a few standouts. Dinklage gives a scene-stealing performance as Roman, an unstable crime boss who, in a neat twist, actually has more sympathetic motivations than Marla does. Wiest is also wonderful, keeping viewers on edge regarding who Jennifer actually is.
Propelled by an eerie, synth-heavy score by Marc Canham, “I Care A Lot” moves along at a swift pace, but falters a bit by its heavy-handed finale. Plot holes abound, and Blakeson misses an opportunity to explore Marla’s psychology in more depth. Similarly, the film doesn’t add anything particularly unique in terms of social commentary — spotlighting a real-world issue of corrupt conservatorships, but adding little else to the conversation, launching itself into the firmly unbelievable.
Regardless of its missed potential, “I Care A Lot” is still a dastardly enjoyable film that fans of pitch black comedy should lap up.
“I Care a Lot” is a dark comedy thriller written and directed by J Blakeson, starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest and Eiza Gonzalez. It is Rated R for language throughout and some violence, and the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. Alex’s Rating: B+. Available on Netflix as of Feb. 19.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.