There's a dark heart that beats inside writer/director J Blakeson's I Care A Lot, a darkly humorous thriller with an unabashedly cheerful cynicism that is so relentless in its darkness it's hard to imagine anyone but those who truly identify with its so honest it hurts messaging truly embracing the film.
If I were to compare the film to anything else I've ever seen it would likely be the criminally underrated Pumpkin, a vastly funnier yet equally cynical film that appalled nearly every friend I tried to steer its way. My guess is the truth will be the same for I Care A Lot, a film that I truly loved but a film likely to have most viewers hitting the "stop" button in favor of the warm and fuzzy spirit of Moxie or some other far more audience-friendly Netflix release.
I Care A Lot isn't really destined for mass consumption, not even in a post-Trump world detoxifying from hate speech and cartoonish world affairs where people with names like Melania and Ivanka can pass for American princesses and the cultural fog in which we've been living begins to lift only to be replaced by yet another.
Color me cynical, but I Care A Lot really only says it like it is and that's why an awful lot of us aren't going to like it.
The film centers around Rosamund Pike's Marla Grayson, a razor sharp corporate legal guardian whose specialty is to find elderly wards with obscene bank accounts, cognitive declines, and nary a relative to be found whose assets she seizes and bilks while locking them away in some fancy schmantzy care home. It's dark. It's cynical. It's perhaps exaggerated for the sake of cinema.
It's also legal.
Oh yeah, and in case you're wondering, it's also real.
Marla doesn't care. Marla doesn't not care. This is a business transaction. Nothing else. She figures out the legal loopholes and jumps through them, the oft overwhelmed system too distracted to pay much attention and Marla more than willing to grease the hairy palms of anyone who bothers to question her. She's supported by her assistant and lover Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) and together they've built a financial empire on faux compassion and perfectly legal do-gooding that's up to no good.
Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) is a seemingly easy mark - a wealthy retiree with no living heirs or family.
Easy mark. Quick transaction.
Of course, this wouldn't be a thriller if everything was so easy.
What happens when Jennifer isn't Jennifer and who Jennifer is causes a whole lot of people to be more than a little disturbed when she suddenly shows up missing?
If Marla wants to survive to find out, she's going to have to up her game.
The world inside I Care A Lot is both grossly exaggerated yet disturbingly real. There's a painstaking precision here that's frightening, especially for anyone who's ever lived in this world of corporate guardians, vulnerable adults, corrupt institutions, and the people who are willing to profit from it all. At its best, this system is woefully understaffed and frighteningly dysfunctional.
At its worst?
Welcome to I Care A Lot.
If you're getting older or you have a disability in America, this is the world that you fear. It's a world where you wake up one morning and the world that you've created is no longer your own and someone you don't know has become your legal guardian because you're alert and oriented x2 instead of x3.
If you've ever had to place a loved one inside a skilled nursing facility, or a nursing home, this is also the world that you fear. You fear that someone's going to come along and take control because they can and an automated system of paint-by-number checks and balances isn't nearly sophisticated enough to catch the evils that men, and women, will do.
Rosamund Pike is extraordinary here, an intentionally paper thin character brought vividly to life despite the fact that we never really know anything about her other than the fact that she'll do anything to profit from the misfortunes of others. Pike's Marla is unapologetic in her moral rot, the BMW it buys more than enough of a healing balm to cure any doubt that might rise up.
Of course, no doubt really rises up.
Speaking of rising up, Dianne Wiest is once again masterful here as Jennifer, whose cognitive abilities are actually just fine but when the system wants what the system can take everything can change. The 72-year-old Wiest remains one of Hollywood's finest actresses, Academy Awards for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway only the tip of the iceberg for her immense talent. Watch her facial expressions here - she's utterly captivating and vulnerable and empowered and simply amazing in a role that could have been so easily one-note.
As Marla's primary foe, Peter Dinklage serves up yet another work of wonder as Roman, a mysterious mafioso type with connections, cash, and a willingness to use them to get whatever he wants. From legal maneuvers by an equally smarmy attorney (Chris Messina) to a cache of hit men ready to do his bidding, Roman trades blows with Marla like I traded baseball cards as a kid and with equal but far more perverse glee.
The truth is that I'm not quite sure that Blakeson, the British writer/director of 2009's The Disappearance of Alice Creed, truly intends for I Care A Lot to have any type of serious messaging to it. I Care A Lot is, at its core, a systemic thriller in which the real crime is that practically everything that unfolds is perfectly legal. We're only modestly inclined to sympathize with Wiest's Jennifer, never really given enough info to care just as Marla would like it. Instead, we're left with two key players, Marla and Roman, who are evil personified precisely because they're not entirely evil.
That's way more frightening.
I Care A Lot isn't for everyone. It's a dark and cynical and relentlessly negative motion picture that made me laugh far more than I care to admit and frightened me even more as this world felt real and practically every fear I have in my own life came to life in exaggerated yet obscenely realistic ways. There's a narcissistic conceit at work here that seems so absurd that it's hard to believe it's real but, then again, we're living in a year when hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans have died while the rich get richer and there's a dark cultural underbelly that we can't, well, mask.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic