While this may not be the perfect time to watch a movie about terrible people doing terrible things to innocent people, it’s always the perfect time for a movie as fun and twisted as I Care a Lot is. Cynical in all the most entertaining ways, this is a film that hollows out your soul and fills it with a mouth-watering blend of cruelty, revenge and dark comedy, wrapped in a camp coating that will leave your mind blown and your gut ravaged. And you’ll love every second of it.
Written and directed by J Blakeson and starring the deliciously glorious Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson, a ruthless professional guardian who takes advantage of elderly people in order to swindle them out of house and home, I Care A Lot is a black comedy in every sense of the word. There are times you have to really look for the humor, but it’s there, mostly embedded in the “she can’t really DO that, can she??” elements that are scattered throughout. Even as she does everything by the book and claims to act within the boundaries of the law, Marla is still a self-proclaimed predator who cons every one of her elderly clients into financial and physical submission, never above bribing and threatening.
But when Marla crosses paths with Jennifer Peterson, played by Dianne Wiest, a mildly declining elderly rich woman with no living relatives, even her eyes widen at the possibilities. Marla swoops in and grifts her way into becoming Jennifer’s legal guardian, stealing everything that she owns, from her house to the contents of her safe deposit box. But when Jennifer turns out to have secret friends who are willing to protect her, Marla is forced to choose between letting her golden goose just walk away or standing up to Jennifer’s mysterious and possibly dangerous advocates. If there’s one thing we know about Marla (since she tells us up front), it’s that she’s never one to back down, even when she learns that Jennifer’s “friends” are actually the mob, led by boss Roman Lunyov, played by Peter Dinklage. What begins as a tug-of-war for Jennifer’s well-being becomes something much more dangerous as Marla and Roman set their sights on destroying each other.
It’s impossible to not have a fleeting comparison to Promising Young Woman, a movie that shares so much stylistically with I Care A Lot, as Blakeson’s vibe is similar to Emerald Fennell’s provocative, bold and energetic film, a critic’s favorite and awards season front-runner. Both films even share a similar center, in a singular female performance that is riveting and savage in its commitment. But while Carey Mulligan inhabited Promising Young Woman with a vulnerability and a core of pain, Pike gives Marla no such weakness, as her ball-busting, ambitious, greedy and vengeful predator is hard core through and through, impervious to insult or injury. Pike’s performance walks the line beautifully between cold and camp, robotic and robust, severe and sexy. The only thing she seems to care about is her girlfriend Fran, played by Eiza Gonzalez, a former cop who is also her business partner. I won’t lie and say it didn’t bother me that Blakeson chose to make this cold-hearted, ruthless snake of a human being a lesbian, which, I’ll be honest, felt cheap. The fact that she obviously hates everyone would make it easy to assume she would also hate men, but we aren’t far enough away from the man-hating psychopath lesbian trope of the ‘80s (Joe Eszterhas, anyone) for this to not be bothersome.
But offending the audience is par for the course with this film, which is upsetting on multiple levels, and that’s exactly the point. I Care A Lot amplifies everything we have learned in the past four years: good people can sometimes be conned and bad people can sometimes win. It’s been a hard road for an idealist like me to grow more and more cynical as I’ve aged as I’ve come to accept that systems are imperfect, the world is not fair, and that sometimes there are no consequences for bad actions. At least, not when you have power or money. Like the world of ruthless financial predators that we’ve seen in movies such as Trading Places, Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short, I Care A Lot is a lovingly savage critique of systems that can be too easily manipulated by those with impure motives. Although these anti-heroes are not any sort of aspirational characters, it sure is nice to finally see a woman at the center of the long con for a change, equal to her rivals in everything but testosterone.
Pike is absolutely perfect as this gender-busting villain, making your skin crawl in every scene, but you just can’t get enough. Dinklage owns every minute of his screen time, as usual, and Oscar-winner Wiest hasn’t missed a beat. Chris Messina has a delightful couple of scenes as a Saul Goodman-type mob lawyer and Nicholas Logan is sleazy and slithering as a mob goon. But I Care A Lot is all about Rosamund Pike, who is so good at being bad, we have to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t be rooting for her. It’s a clever trick, and I highly recommend the deception.