Netflix’s I Care a Lot, which is now streaming, starts out as one type of movie and ends as something different, catapulting to a vicious conclusion that would have more impact if the movie hadn’t veered so wildly in the middle. Was there any other fate that could have befallen Rosamund Pike’s unrepentant antiheroine? Or did J Blakeson’s dark action comedy have to end in shocking bloodshed?
Pike, bringing back some of her Amy Dunne snarl from Gone Girl, plays Marla Grayson, who makes her living as a court-appointed guardian. It doesn’t sound like glamorous work, but Marla makes it look as sleek as if she were Henry Hill walking through the Copa in Goodfellas. It’s a scam and she loves it. Along with her girlfriend and partner Fran (Eiza González), Marla finds elderly people with cash on hand and puts them into facilities while she bleeds their wealth for her own profit, selling off their assets in the name of paying for their healthcare.
Marla, with her severe bob and a vape rig always in hand, is proud of her greed and her ability to game a perfectly legal system for her own benefit. But when she targets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a rare “cherry,” with seemingly no living relatives and a lot of money, she finds that she messed with the wrong sweet old lady. It turns out that Jennifer is not actually alone in this world. Her son is a violent Russian gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who helped his mother obtain a stolen identity. Marla is ruthless but operates within the law to enact her schemes. Now she’s in the orbit of a villain who has no regard for the structures that keep Marla’s business afloat.
What begins as a satire of the elder care industry and the kind of vultures who feed off the infirm, becomes a more run of the mill mob story, with goofy bad guys out for blood. Jennifer, despite a great performance from Dianne Wiest, gets lost in the madness, as do the sharper edges of Marla’s character. Ultimately, Roman and Marla enter a sort of truce after she one ups him. He sees the potential in her gambit and they enter a partnership, creating a network of guardians all over the U.S. with the intent of bleeding the old dry of their funds.
Marla becomes a fabulously rich CEO, but her reign of terror comes to an end when she’s gunned down outside of a television interview. The culprit? The aggrieved son (Macon Blair) of one of her quote-unquote victims, who was trying to get access to his mother in the opening sequence. In that first interaction this man spews threats at Marla saying he hopes she gets raped and murdered. She counters by telling him he’s threatened by her because she’s a woman. His mother ended up dying in Marla’s care, and he never got to see her before she passed. So he shoots Marla as revenge, calling her a “bitch” as he fires the trigger. Is he an angry misogynist? Or just a sad son driven to an extreme? I Care a Lot is relatively uninterested in this question.
Blakeson’s approach to feminism is thin. Marla uses the language of female empowerment when trying to make the men around her seem small, but the screenplay does little to interrogate the gender dynamics of her boss bitch attitude. She’s not a crusader. She’s only in anything for herself, and occasionally Fran. She’ll spurt out some platitudes about her womanhood, but only as a tactic. Marla is a fully engaging figure, largely thanks to Pike, who finally once again has a role worthy of her talent for conveying a sociopathic sense of composure. But Marla doesn’t need or deserve any sympathy just because she happens to be a woman. The character herself would balk against that.
Killing her is a cheap and easy way to wrap things up, which elicits a host of other questions (about guns, about the hatred of women) that I Care a Lot doesn’t have the time to answer. Marla is a bitch and she’s punished, and that’s that. All the promise of the film’s premise is undermined by Blakeson’s desire to make the violence as broad as possible. Its incisive commentary is lost as it becomes a rather generic mob movie and is muddled when it takes its final big swing.
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