Film Review – I Care a Lot
I Care a Lot
It’s a nasty scheme. A doctor – under dubious circumstances – picks out one of their patients. They make sure the patient is financially secure, has little to no acquaintances, and are elderly but healthy enough to stick around for the near future. The doctor files a report claiming the patient is no longer able to live on their own. A judge hands down an emergency court order forcing the patient under the care of the state. A professional legal guardian becomes responsible for the patient, whisking them to a nursing home. The guardian then auctions off the patient’s home and belongings, pocketing all of their savings. The patient basically becomes a prisoner – they don’t even have to give their consent or show up in court for it to happen. They lose their lives while complete strangers milk them for all they’re worth.
This is an infuriating exploitation, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in real life. This is tricky material to wade through cinematically. Watching the elderly be taken advantage of does not lend to an enjoyable viewing experience. Writer/director J Blakeson almost pulls it off in I Care a Lot (2021). It starts well enough, as he combs through the legal loopholes that would allow such a scam to happen. An argument is made that court ordered guardians are the best people to look after their wards because they don’t have the emotional attachment family members would. Yet the opposite is true – the lack of connection is the very reason they’re able to steal without remorse.
A big plus is the casting of Rosamund Pike as the lead. Channeling the same persona she brought to Gone Girl (2014), Pike plays the crooked guardian Marla Grayson with cold blooded efficiency. With her razor-sharp bob and slick suits, Marla exudes confidence and cunning in equal measure. She often describes herself as “a lioness” – a person who took matters into her own hands and became a social predator. Pike is very good as the master manipulator. Some of her best scenes show her working the system, bending the rules so that she obtains absolute control over her wards. She stands in front of a wall with pictures of them all like a shepherd overlooking her flock. The way she and her business partner/lover Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) put the squeeze on their targets is like watching crows circling helpless prey.
Pike is very good at being bad, and her performance makes much of her despicable acts tolerable to witness. However, Blakeson’s screenplay makes a vital misstep heading into the second act. Marla’s business seems to be going well until she sets her sights on the wrong patient, Dianne Wiest’s Jennifer Peterson. On the surface, the little old lady is the perfect candidate to fill Marla’s bank account for years, until we discover that Jennifer has secrets of her own. First a driver (Nicholas Logan) unexpectedly shows up at Jennifer’s house looking for her. Then a lawyer (Chris Messina) comes to Marla’s office demanding that Jennifer be released. We eventually meet Roman (Peter Dinklage), a crime boss with ties to the Russian mafia and who has keen interest in Jennifer’s well-being.
It’s at this point where the narrative runs headfirst into tonal problems. By introducing Roman and his thugs, Marla is placed into the traditional protagonist position. She has to navigate treacherous waters – keeping her business intact while evading Roman’s clutches. The second half becomes a standard thriller, which does not work. Marla is not a traditional protagonist, in fact, she is not a character that we are meant to root for. She has abused the elderly for her own benefit. We learn nothing else about her other than her capitalistic ambition. Not a for a minute did I care about her getting caught, not once did I wish for her to escape. There are no heroes here – Marla and Roman are both villains.
That’s not to say movies about terrible people are automatically bad, but the satire of I Care a Lot does not have enough bite to sustain itself. The film works when we watch Marla use the law to commit her crimes, exposing an industry that demands an overhaul. Once she is treated like the underdog, everything falls apart. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a horrible person in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but that film understood that he was a product of society’s obsession with wealth and privilege. Balram (Adarsh Gourav) does awful things in The White Tiger (2021), but we learn how his upbringing and the Indian caste system forced him to use violence to move up the social ladder. Here, Marla is a blank slate, whose only character trait is her greed. In an admittedly tense scene, Marla tries to get Jennifer to spill her secrets, only for Jennifer to giggle and respond with the ominous phrase, “He’s coming for you.” In a vacuum, the scene is effective, but in the context of the story it doesn’t make sense. Marla is a criminal who bit off more than she can chew, why should we care about what happens to her?
Blakeson’s writing does a disservice to his direction, the production and art design, and Marc Canham’s music. The visual and sound elements create a kind of hyper-realism, with its bold colors and pop infused soundtrack. But all of that exists on the surface. It’s when we dig deeper that we find a hollow shell. These are bad characters doing bad things to each other, while the innocent stand to the side to see which crook will steal from them next. Does that sound like much fun to you? I didn’t think so.