Early on in J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot there is a moment of acknowledgement, where in voiceover Marla (Rosamund Pike) tells the audience that being good and adhering to societies rules is weak. It’s a hot take that’s for sure but mostly it sets the stage for a film that tries to pass itself off as satire while allowing its characters to perpetuate some heinous viewpoints while pretending its comedy. This opening monologue gives way to another far more odious one that Blakeson forces you to endure face to face as Marla recounts all the ways her morality or lack thereof is really an issue for the male society that doesn’t appreciate her brilliance. While a lot to take in a few short minutes it is enough to frame how you will perceive the entirety of what’s to come and while I Care A Lot, with its stacked cast of game performers, interesting style choices and pulsing beats plays like a fast paced thriller, it lacks any kind of real depth to mean a whole lot beyond the fact that being bad, is good?
You see, Marla is a court appointed guardian for at risk pensioners, a very real and controversial role in modern day America that is ripe for political commentary and discussion. You see Marla uses her position to accumulate wealth, effectively stealing her ‘clients’ assets, selling their homes and personal belongings and draining their funds while deceiving the courts that gave her this power into thinking these expenses are acceptable costs. Its a racket she shares with her partner/wife Fran (Eiza González), as the two find holes in the system as they track down more people to rope into their scam. Everything is going perfectly until they go after Jennifer (Diane Wiest), a woman who is not all she says she is. Suddenly some not so nice people take offense to their little scheme and the one life it has affected.
While Blakeson (who also wrote the script) frames his story around these three women and our inaccurate perceptions of them, based on very masculine ideals of who they should be in society, he also frames them as other or a more accurate word would be better. Martha is smarter and more psychologically vicious that her opponents, here represented by Peter Dinklage’s crime boss, yet another contradiction on power dynamics. Watching her outsmart people by playing to their emotions and their willingness to trust her is supposed to be fun, a callous woman working her way through a maligned world. The injection of humour doesn’t change the fact that Marla’s con isn’t a jovial victimless crime, it isn’t just petty theft, its literally the draining of the last years of peoples lives framed as entertainment. To call it tasteless doesn’t quite do the sickening feeling the film conveys justice. The notion that you should feel guilty for getting entertainment out of this feature would add meaning to the film’s draining 120 minute run but there isn’t a single frame of I Care A Lot where the neon lights blind us to the real goings on enough to make this crime entertaining.
The fact that the story saps so much from the experience means that cinematographer Doug Emmett’s wonderfully realised shots and colours , ones that effectively realise Marla’s hyper stylised world feel like an afterthought. Although paving the way for a fast paced, bright and suspense filled mystery, with a killer techno infused score by Marc Canham, the two halves of I Care a Lot never mesh together. The tonal whiplash felt when the transition is made from mystery to all out thriller only exacerbates the other issues plaguing Marla’s story. While Pike, González and Wiest all embrace the chance to play these seemingly complicated women, they all feel like cogs in a machine that has no clue where it is going or what it is saying.
Part failed discussion of America’s treatment of the elderly as commodities, part gangster thriller, Blakeson’s script turns this game of cat and mouse into a constant fight to come out on top of a competition where nobody is the winner. It’s a pissing contest with no stakes. While Marla fights for power over her own humanity, Dinklage’s Roman fights for family. It’s a poor comparison between the two as both are monsters but Roman at least knows what he is, Marla still sees herself as justified and while Pike embraces Marla, the character development, the justification for her actions feels so shaky that the entire film crumbles around it. This strong woman bravado gives way to a script where the women here are short changed by lazy writing where the real nuance is afforded the men. A slimy turn from Chris Messina as Roman’s lawyer has more layers to it in his 5 minutes of screen time than most of the female cast combined.
The irony is that most of the online vitriol to the film comes from just how ‘woke’ it is, how feminist it claims to be. This seems to offend a certain sexist minority of the internet hiding under bridges with the rest of the trolls. They’d be surprised to learn that I Care A Lot is only playing feminist. This is still a mans world, written and directed by one. Cheap while never having a good reason to be, never investing you in where these characters end up. It’s lacking in a point that would make it all worthwhile, so i guess what I’m really trying to say with all this is, I really didn’t care a lot.