When I first heard of this dark comedy, I was immediately intrigued by its casting of Rosamund Pike. I’ve seen her playing real-life heroines in her last two films, A Private War and Radioactive, that it’s actually quite a treat to see her playing a shamelessly devious character. Marla Grayson is a piece of work – a vision of killer beauty with her razor bob haircut and sharp pantsuits, matched only by her piercing ambition to stay on top. The VO in the beginning tells us she didn’t come from money, in fact she grew up poor and she’s determined never to be again. Her get-rich-quick-scheme involves cunning her way to be a legal guardian of elderly wards whose assets she immediately seizes to build her ‘care’ empire.
The film begins with a man who went berserk trying to visit his mother at a care facility. You can easily guess who the guy’s mother’s court-appointed legal guardian is. Marla runs her empire like a tight ship with her business/romantic partner Fran (Eiza González). Everything from knowing the legal loopholes to deceive the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), meticulously researching the victims, to making sure the care facility is ‘prepared’ to receive its new guest–nothing gets by these professional schemers.
British writer/director J Blakeson creates the epitome of an evil protagonist we love to hate in Marla, but then again there are really no good guys in this film… only the bad and the tragic. As much as I despise what Marla and Fran are doing, I was also curious just how their well-oiled con game works. Well, soon they come across their latest ‘cherry’ with a rather bland name, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a wealthy retired lady with a sizable nest egg plus a nice, big house to the bargain. Based on Fran’s research, she has no relative or next of kin which makes her a perfect target. Or so they thought. Someone who’s that too good to be true usually is. Little did they know their cherry has an equally dubious secret and ties to a Russian gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).
One of the main strengths of this film is the performances. Pike is superb as Marla Grayson. I dare say it’s a more indelible performance than Gone Girl that made her famous, as here she wasn’t over-shadowed by a famous leading man or director, able to own the role unapologetically. Clearly she relishes on portraying an icy evil queen, all poise and self-assured even when threatened. Her scenes with Dean (Chris Messina), a slick lawyer on Roman’s payroll, is quite a hoot as she simply refuse to back down. Marla is so evil you’d be inclined to side with the gangster!
The script really put all the talents to good use, even the supporting cast all brought their A-game. I’m not familiar with González, but she’s quite good here as Marla’s tomboy lover who in many ways is the voice of reason that often fall on deaf ears. Two-time Oscar winner Wiest also gets to flex her acting muscles in all her scenes with Pike, refusing to simply be a damsel in distress. Having the great Dinklage as a mobster seems like a pretty obvious choice, and he milks the role like nobody’s business. He provides a sense of menace while also being the comic relief so effortlessly. Last but not least, Macon Blair has a small role here but an important and unforgettable one.
One beef I have with this movie is some of the scenarios of the 2nd and 3rd act gets a bit too over-the-top and ludicrous for its own good. At some point my husband and I yelled ‘oh come on!!’ at the screen. It pushes way past incredulity point at times… I think grounding the film more would’ve made it more effective. The jab against profit-minded American health system is obvious here, somehow the system that’s supposed to help the weak and ailing senior citizens often capitalize on them. It made it SO easy for people like Marla to rob these poor unsuspecting souls while still staying very much within the boundary of the legal system. It’s downright sickening.
Blakeson’s script is filled with twists and turns and you’re never quite sure just who’d win in this all out war between these two nefarious pair. Naturally, many people feel that Marla ought to get her comeuppance and Blakeson toys with that very idea, only to pull the rug right from under us when we think it’s the end of the road for her. The ending made me go ‘whoa!!‘ It’s quite rare these days where a movie finale completely throw you for a loop, so I always cherish that when that happens!
So while it’s not a perfect movie, it’s one heck of a wild, thrilling ride and a stylish one. Costume designer Deborah Newhall designed the clothes to make a pronounced statement about each character and an enviable wardrobe for Pike’s character. Everything Marla wears screams ‘I’m a f*cking lioness,’ which is what she aspires to be. The dynamic score by Marc Canham is perfect for the tone of the movie and for Marla’s Type A personality, used with efficiency in her scenes at the gym, in her vigorous spinning class, etc.
Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a dynamic but also unnerving crime thriller that’s also a biting satire that celebrate sheer feminism. The emotional moments between Marla and Fran’s relationship is few and far between however, and not particularly believable. I think it’s mostly because Marla’s so driven to ‘never lose’ that it’s hard to imagine her caring about anything or anyone else. The scene involving her tooth is a prime example of how much she cares about her image. The title is appropriate here as the only thing she cares a lot is herself and winning. In an age of superhero movies, I suppose it’s refreshing to see a film about villains. I have to say this movie is not for everyone, but if you can stomach morally bankrupt characters and vile stench of a plot, it’s certainly entertaining.
Have you seen I CARE A LOT? Well, what did you think?