I Care A Lot, starring Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage, is a cynically entertaining black comedy about terrible people doing terrible things.
Early in writer-direct J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot, main character Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike, who scored a Golden Globe nod for her work) declares she’s a lioness. And it’s true that Marla is quite the predator, except her prey is the elderly and her goal is to become as wealthy as possible. Marla uses the courts to get herself appointed the legal guardian of people who may or may not be in need of help, places them in nursing homes and then sells off their assets to enrich herself. Yes, court-appointed guardians are a real thing, and I Care A Lot‘s arrival on Netflix is especially fortuitous given the recently renewed interest in Britney Spears’ conservatorship. But it would be wrong to think of the film as a commentary on the idea of guardianship as a whole. Instead this is a cynically entertaining black comedy about terrible people doing terrible things.
The movie starts by establishing the (mostly legal) scam Marla is running with the help of her colleague and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González), a doctor (Alicia Witt) and nursing home administrator (Damian Young) who are on the take, and a well-meaning but naïve judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Marla’s dubious enterprise is working like a well-oiled machine until she goes after supposed “cherry,” Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). Thinking she’s made an easy score, in short order she learns Jennifer is much more than the innocent old lady she appears to be. Soon, gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) is coming after Marla and everyone else involved in her scheme, forcing Marla to go head-to-head with someone who plays by a different set of rules.
To say more would rob you of the joys of discovering what happens for yourself, but suffice it to say, the movie twists and turns in increasingly unexpected yet wickedly delightful ways. Make no mistake, the characters in the film are despicable, and from the beginning, you actively root against most of them, yet the movie manages to make their interactions fun to watch despite that. Much like Thank You For Smoking, American Psycho or the Pike-starring Gone Girl, the characters — Marla in particular — are fascinating in their commitment to their sheer awfulness, and their unshakable determination to win makes it hard to look away.
While the clever script lays the groundwork, without the shimmering performances of the ace cast, I Care A Lot would be a lot less watchable. Rosamund Pike, sporting a slick bob and a series of sophisticated dresses, is delicious as Marla. Not since Gone Girl has she turned in such a spiky, shrewd performance. Meanwhile, although Dinklage frequently leans into an over-the-top gangster archetype, this belies his character’s calculated intelligence, which comes out in quieter moments. Wiest is gold as Jennifer, and seems to be having a ton of fun with her role, especially when she giddily informs Marla of the trouble she’s in; it’s just a shame she disappears for so much of the film. The rest of the cast is also strong, especially Chris Messina as Roman’s lawyer, a slick shark who meets his match with Marla.
As the movie continues, it takes increasing liberties with time and logic, yet enough holds together to make this only mildly noticeable. Besides, the film is engrossing enough that some of these leaps are easy to overlook. There’s an undercurrent of gender politics and class commentary to the story, including observations about the way men try to intimidate women and how wealth is the only means to true security in America, but these are fairly fleeting. Besides, Marla isn’t exactly a role model for women or an admirable example of how to get ahead in life, even if there are moments where it’s hard not to admire her steadfast mettle.
And although the film immerses itself in the brightly designed world Marla’s created for herself, it never entirely loses sight of her cold, black heart. While Marla and all the other characters that populate I Care A Lot aren’t people you’d ever want to meet in real life, they sure are fun to spend a two-hour movie with.
I Care A Lot, starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Nicholas Logan, Damian Young, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Dianne Wiest, debuts on Friday, Feb. 19 on Netflix.
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