Written and directed by J Blakeson, ‘I Care a Lot‘ attempts to satirically comment on the pursuit of the American Dream, but the lack of cutting edge storytelling leaves the only cutting edge thing to be Rosamund Pike’s razor sharp bob.
The dark comedy released through Netflix (depending on the country you’re in this could also be streaming through Amazon Prime Video) tells the story of Marla Greyson (Pike), a court-appointed guardian to the elderly who, with the assistance of a crooked Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt), a shady nursing home manager (Damian Young) and Bonnie-and-Clyde partner Fran (Eiza González), fraudulently obtains legal guardianship of wealthy retirees with little-to-no family to care for them. This all falls part of her scheme to strip them of their autonomy and assets which she liquidates for herself.
When one of Marla’s wards passes, she goes to Dr. Amos for a replacement victim, who provides her with the information of Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) – a wealthy retiree, with no family and some signs of confusion. Without her knowledge, Jennifer’s confusion is exaggerated to be dementia and Marla becomes her court-appointed guardian. Through a montage of shots, the swift execution of Marla’s scheme is exposed: she arrives at Jennifer’s home with legal documents; Jennifer is taken in by the nursing home; her cellphone is taken away from her; and with that her autonomy. Jennifer’s removal from her normal life causes anger for an underground gangster (Peter Dinklage) who we learn is Jennifer’s son who faked his own death and made his mother claim the name Jennifer Peterson from a child who died many years ago. This dark truth promises an intriguing thriller that never quite becomes what it has the potential to be.
Marla, for example, is a less sinister character than Gone Girl‘s Amy Dunne (also played by Pike). Yes, she has the razor sharp bob. Yes, she is conniving. Yes, she is cold. But as a character she is less intriguing. This lack of intrigue goes beyond the faux charm in her piercing blue eyes and cold-tempted tone because it is her nihilistic beliefs that makes her a character with no fear of death or her evil scheme being outed. This leads to a lack of internal and external conflict from arising which makes the pay-offs after the midpoint and climax somewhat undeserving.
Another undeserving element of Blakeson’s character exploration is the almost forgotten story of who Jennifer Peterson really is and why she is living with this dark secret. While it may not have particularly pushed the plot forward, it definitely would have made one of the characters well-rounded or added more to a rather flat third and final act.
From my first viewing of any J Blakeson film, ‘I Care a Lot‘ makes it uncertain whether Blakeson’s strength lies in his writing or his directing. A stand-out directorial decision is the use of bright, hazy colour which can be interpreted as an indication of the faux confusion placed on Marla’s victims or the act of caring she so perfectly performs. There are however, shots directly in the sun that are oversaturated and misplaced in an already vibrant-coloured film.
Another misplaced element in Blakeson’s writing is his decision to have the characters expressly state the themes of the film instead of finding innovative ways to show it. As a visual medium, I believe, films should always try to show instead of tell. This is something that happens throughout most of the film but is most obvious towards the end when Marla is being interviewed about achieving the American Dream, success and fortune. But there’s nothing profound in what she says which diminishes the attempted satirical value.
And that’s what happens with most of the film: you’re unaware that this is supposed to be a satirical take on greed and the American Dream but there’s nothing that reminds you of this theme other than the dialogue spoken by characters. With that I believe Blakeson had the best intention to comment on a socio-economic issue but couldn’t really find coherent ways to explore this satirical commentary.
I CARE A LOT is available to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime in select countries
Review – ‘I Care a Lot’
Reviewed online, February 20, 2021. Rating: R. Running time: 118 min.
PRODUCTION: (UK) An Amazon Prime Video release of a Black Bear Pictures, Crimple Beck production. Producers: J Blakeson (p.g.a.), Michael Heimler (p.g.a.), Teddy Schwarzman (p.g.a.), Ben Stillman. Executive producers: Andrea Ajemian, Sacha Guttenstein.
CREW: Director/screenplay: J Blakeson. Cinematography: Doug Emmett. Editing: Mark Eckersley. Music: Marc Canham.
CAST: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Nicholas Logan.