Synopsis – A crooked legal guardian who drains the savings of her elderly wards meets her match when a woman she tries to swindle turns out to be more than she first appears.
My Take – With the moral of the world continuing to spiral downwards, most of us, mainly the ones stuck at home, have turned towards cinema with preferably uplifting themes, looking and hoping that there must be some good left somewhere, at least in small portions. While recently released films like ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ and ‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ make for shining examples of such cause, indubitably this latest Netflix release (or Amazon Prime Video, depending on the region), does not belong in that category.
Mainly as it sees Rosamund Pike, who has already garnered an a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) for the role, return to her Gone Girl mode with a mix of the dehumanizing capitalism seen in American Psycho, to play a steely professional guardian in writer/director J Blakeson’s vibrant and chaotic exploration of the care business.
Though watching sweet and vulnerable old people been taken advantage off can be difficult, but dripped in witty writing and twists you don’t see coming, this deliciously dark comedy, despite going off the rails in the third act, manages to keep one intrigued till the very end.
Sure, director Blakeson‘s film is not as deep as one would have expected it to be, but it delivers the same kicky pleasure the recent ‘Promising Young Woman’ offered and manages to be enjoyable because Pike makes viewers care about Marla despite her constant viciousness.
The story follows Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a ruthless con artist masquerading as a legal guardian for the elderly, who she exploits in order to siphon off their wealth and assets until they die. With the complicit aid of doctors who wrongfully declare targets unfit to manage their own finances, meticulously-planned courtroom appearances meant to hoodwink the justice system and the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and a state-of-the-art retirement home that profits off the entire cycle, Marla goes about her reprehensible ways in a startlingly effective fashion.
Aiding her in her exploits is her partner, Fran (Eiza González), who carries out preliminary research prior to scoping out potential targets and also acts as an enforcer every step of the way. However, she seems to have met her match when she chooses Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) as her newest target, who, unbeknownst to her, is backed by Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a mob boss. Hence, resulting in a frenetic cat-and-mouse game between the two, who aim to subdue the other in their own terrible, ruthless ways.
With its central conflict established, the film prowls through its 118 minute runtime. Mirroring its protagonist’s steady pulse and slick-yet-not-overstated style, it confidently lays out the wait-and-see attitude between its two main characters, as they make their moves and countermoves against each other. Part of the film’s giddy fun is waiting to see if, when, and how Marla and/or Roman will be taken down.
Here, director Blakeson has assembled a gallery of crafty and deplorable people yet never makes any judgment on them, probably because this is the world we live in. His horrifyingly feasible world sees the care system populated by the greedy and apathetic, and where the good hearted ones are duped with terrifying ease. Marla is able to exploit the elderly because the system allows it. She pays the doctor (Alicia Witt) to falsely diagnose the elderly, the lawyers remain indifferent, the judge is unsuspecting, and the nurses are just too underpaid to care.
But what makes the whole thing frightening is Marla is operating within the confines of an actual legal framework. It’s a unique experience watching a story where no one has any redeeming qualities, just varying degrees of vileness. As seen in the deeply uncomfortable opening scene, where Marla forcibly separates one of her wards from their son via the courts. Pike’s narration tells us that there are no good people, before being accosted by the son who, in his anger, loses any moral high ground with a sexist tirade.
Yes, preying on the elderly is no laughing matter, but the film proves there’s no topic too grim to glean comedy from. While one may be conflicted whether to laugh or tremble at the situations portrayed on screen, and may end up doing both. But even the laughs will be tempered with the sobering realism of a merciless world which renders the elderly most vulnerable.
However, while it’s not nice, it is impeccably crafted, as director Blakeson proves highly capable not only at marrying cinematic staples but also keeping the whole film intriguing, leaving us guessing every step of the way. Not only does it keep one on the edge of seat the entire time, but it also leaves us wanting more.
Nevertheless, there are a few shortcomings, especially monologues that go nowhere, and a third act that spirals out of control. Once Marla and Roman come face to face, the film for no reason turns into some kind of odd and unearned spy film where characters’ decisions begin to feel unconfined to reality, and proceeds to get just very silly. Another weak link of the film is Marla’s relationship with Fran, mainly as it felt that director Blakeson wrote her character purely for Marla’s sake, as a tether to human emotion and a plot-pushing presence. An element which fails to serve a purpose, and feels like a missed opportunity.
Regardless, the biggest catch of the film is Rosamund Pike and her ability to hold your attention. As Marla, Pike is tremendous fun, playing the sort of openly conniving woman that her character in Gone Girl subversively hinted at. You completely despise Marla within twenty minutes, and yet at the same time are in awe of her intelligence and power. It’s difficult to take your eyes off of her as she glides into every scene with a steel glare and laser cut bob. Peter Dinklage makes for a compelling foe and has his own great moments, from being loving and paternal to a full-on rage monster.
Dianne Wiest is a pleasure to watch as she switches from vulnerable to conniving especially when she realizes her mob cavalry are en route. Eiza González is just given far too little to do, while Chris Messina is delightfully sleazy as Roman’s lawyer. In smaller roles, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alicia Witt, and Nicholas Logan also manage to stand out. On the whole, ‘I Care a Lot’ is a twist-addled comedy thriller with a stellar lead performance that is an absolute delight to watch.
Directed – J Blakeson
Rated – R
Run Time – 118 minutes