I Care a Lot balances biting social satire with brutal black humor to devilishly delicious effect, all while Rosamund Pike anchors the entire absurd affair.
Though Rosamund Pike first made a name for herself with standout supporting roles in films like Die Another Day, Pride & Prejudice, and An Education, it was her towering turn as the delightfully devilish Amy Elliott Dunne in David Fincher’s Gone Girl that shot her career into the stratosphere. After earning effervescent praise and plaudits from critics around the globe and receiving Best Actress nominations at nearly every awards ceremony imaginable – from the Oscars to the Golden Globes to the BAFTAs and more – nearly everyone was looking forward to what projects the breakout star would pursue next.
Unfortunately, in recent years, supposedly “buzzy” biopics such as A Private War or last year’s Radioactive have failed to ignite the same interest as Gone Girl did with both awards pundits and the moviegoing public, despite the passion Pike brings to every part she plays. Nevertheless, fans yearning to see their star in top form once more need not fret any longer. In J. Blakeson’s (The 5th Wave) I Care a Lot, Pike has finally found another film befitting of her tremendous talent, again channeling her “Amazing Amy” chilliness in a sinister and stylish crime comedy that reminds the world of what she does best – being bad.
I Care a Lot follows the malicious machinations of one Marla Grayson (Pike), a deviously deceitful “legal guardian” who runs a business where she scams senior citizens out of their life savings by duping judges into placing them under her “care” and subsequently selling off all of their valuables to make a quick buck. Alongside her fellow liar – and lover – Fran (Eiza González, of Baby Driver and Alita: Battle Angel), Marla seemingly has it made – that is, until the trickster twosome take things a little too far with their latest victim, the seemingly simpleminded Jennifer Peterson (two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, of Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets over Broadway).
Before long, what starts as just another one of Marla’s shifty schemes soon evolves into something far more serious. After rebuffing a wily lawyer (Chris Messina, of Birds of Prey and Argo) who attempts to pay her off in exchange for Jennifer’s freedom, Marla then finds herself in the crosshairs of crooked gangster Roman Lunyou (Peter Dinklage, of Game of Thrones and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), a fiery force of nature with a personal connection to the elderly woman who also intends to wrestle control over her from Marla by any means necessary. However, this grifter won’t go down with a good fight, and in time, Marla and Fran become embroiled in a full-on war with Lunyou and his gang, well on their way to mutually assured destruction.
J. Blakeson’s blistering black comedy grabs the audience’s attention right from the get-go, as Pike tears through a monstrous monologue and tells us that “playing fair is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor.” Love her or hate her – and to be fair, there’s a formidable case for the latter – you can’t help but be instantly magnetized by Marla’s caustic candor and her alluring acidity, and much of that credit must go to Blakeson’s scorcher of a script. Though Blakeson never tries to hide the heinousness of these shady swindlers, every now and again, he offers them the opportunity to share a strikingly shrewd observation on capitalism or country-wide corruption that cuts to a core of a conversation currently taking place in American politics, reminding viewers to aim their animosity at the systems that even allow Marla’s treachery to take place or push people like her towards these paths (and fear not, Blakeson’s treatment of the torturous “hidden” epidemic of elder abuse – which Marla perpetuates – is just as tender).
Though not the primary focus of the film, these relevant remarks add an unexpectedly timely angle to I Care a Lot and offset all of the other absurdity taking place, infusing some substance in a story that seems to be chiefly concerned with style. All this being said, Blakeson doesn’t come close to letting Marla off the hook for her evil deeds either – for better or for worse. Some may find it difficult to invest in someone this dishonest and despicable (since Blakeson never shies away from her deep-rooted duplicity) but even when the movie isn’t earning our engagement by interrogating the ills of American institutions, it’s thankfully still always superficially satisfying thanks to a swiftly structured story and deliciously diabolical dialogue. For the most part, Marla’s off-putting personality rarely poses a problem, as we’re too dazzled by the depravity on display in Blakeson’s near-perfectly-paced narrative to let these nitpicks negate our enjoyment overall.
Pike is the other factor in the equation relating to our entertainment whilst watching I Care a Lot, and truth be told, Marla wouldn’t be anywhere near as appealing a figure to follow if Pike didn’t completely commit to her callousness. Obviously, we’ve seen Pike “do dark” before with Gone Girl, but while Amy kept up an “endearing” persona in the public eye, Marla is a slimy showboat, and Pike takes full advantage of the freedom she’s been given to be as gloriously grimy as she is here. Pike’s power is so potent that, even though we as the audience are always aware of how truly terrible she is as a human being, we’re still continually conned by her charming chicanery just as other characters are, falling prey to her falsehoods in spite of our better instincts. There’s just something about the way she sells her smug, shit-eating grin that gets the best of us every single time, and, like any good scam artist, she never, ever shows her bluff.
Pike is aided by an ensemble of equally enthralling performers, all of whom straddle the line between comedy and chaos quite capably and leave a lasting impression no matter the size of their role. The ever-enchanting Wiest is a dear delight as the unassuming Mrs. Peterson, but it’s the moments in which meets Marla’s militancy with her own malice that truly allow the actress to sink her teeth into the character – a task she takes on with glee. Meanwhile, the always reliable Dinklage is a frightfully fierce foil for Marla as soon as he enters the picture, conducting himself with a petrifying prowess that sends shivers down our spine in every single one of his scenes. González similarly stands out amongst all of the film’s supporting players, as she and Pike have some sincerely compelling chemistry, and she is able to match Marla’s taste for theatrics terrifically.
As I Care a Lot heads into its third act, some might experience brief tonal whiplash when the events of the plot become increasingly erratic and the film leans more into suspense as opposed to satire, but in the end, Blakeson still sticks his landing and leaves us with a real stinger of a final shot. And, throughout it all, Pike’s panache in the lead role never loses its luster, as she anchors the adventure amidst all its aberrant antics. I Care a Lot certainly tries to do (and be) many things all at once, and its sinister sense of humor may not be for everyone, but those willing to ride its darkly witty wavelength are in for a raucous ride.