I Care a Lot (2020) is an American black comedy thriller film written and directed by J Blakeson [The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Descent: Part 2]. It stars Rosamund Pike in the lead role, with Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, and Chris Messina. It was distributed by Netflix in February 2021, after its initial release at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020.
The recipient of mostly favourable reviews, I Care a Lot is untraditional in its approach to narrative, and lacks certain elements we would expect to see in a mainstream film. For me, this left the overall feel of the film falling a little shorter than my expectations, but on the other hand, it does raise some questions about why Blakeson wrote the film in this way.
Marla Grayson [Rosamund Pike] is a state-appointed guardian for the elderly who claims her wards under the guise of offering them the best possible care. Really, she wants access to their wealth, selling their estates to syphon into her own pockets. Marla works alongside her business partner and romantic partner, the similarly dishonourable Fran. [Eiza González]. When Marla hears of Jennifer Peterson [Dianne Wiest], she dubs her a “cherry” – a well-off elderly person with no inheritors. Marla quickly nabs her into her appointed guardianship but comes to realise Jennifer is no regular ward.
I Care a Lot offers a stimulating cinematic experience. Its use of formal techniques such as cinematography and colour theory are rich and intriguing, such as the implication of Marla’s clothes in contrast to surrounding characters, as well as the repeated use of the colour red. I don’t have any qualms with the camera direction, except for the slightly overused slow motion.
The issue that arises for me in the film’s narrative – or lack thereof. When watching I Care a Lot, the viewer has no choice but to remain an objective observer who does not (or cannot) root for any of the characters we meet with. This arises through the use of avoiding any protagonist characters and instead having two antagonistic characters at either side of the the film’s conflict.
The film lacks any sort of character development, arc, or backstory. We are given no details around why Marla behaves the way she does, apart from in one very minor and undeveloped instance. For Peter Dinklage’s character, the lack of contextualisation is excusable, he arrives as the (other) bad guy, and he’s bad because he just is. That’s the function of the character within the narrative. Usually with a character like Marla, we would expect to see something more beyond her characterisation as a ruthless con-woman. Something to tell us the why, how, who, and what got her to where her character is in the film. As a result, there’s no development or growth, which can feel unsatisfying.
I would suggest the reason the narrative is presented in this way, is along the lines of something like “capitalism is the real villain here…” Yet, the film is so on the nose in relation to its thematic content, it leaves very little room for introspection. As the narrator, Marla herself discusses capitalism and the American dream at length. We already know it’s bad, and I just wanted the film to tell me more. I suppose in the mind of the viewer, the film tells us that the American dream strips people of their humanity, thus there are no characters you can empathise with or root for. It’s strange and uncomfortable, but it’s not supposed to be a comfortable film, or to reassure you that good triumphs over evil.
In conclusion, I Care a Lot is a fairly frustrating film. It purposefully withholds what you want from it, and yet it’s not unentertaining. I think thriller fans would enjoy this film if they’re looking for something that flips the script on the conventional thriller plot. The performances from the cast are great, but there are drawbacks that arise from the format of two antagonists, which is that you find yourself not being all that invested in what happens to the characters because you just don’t care about them.
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