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‘I Care A Lot’ offers darkly comic delights

February 22, 2021
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There are few cinematic tightropes that are trickier to walk than dark comedy. While finding humor in the shadows is something that many of us do, representing that humor effectively on screen is extremely hit or miss. When it hits, you get something that is both screamingly funny and weirdly unsettling. When it misses, you just get the latter.

“I Care A Lot” hits.

The film – written and directed by J Blakeson and currently streaming on Netflix – mines a lot of laughs from a decidedly grim foundation. It takes a special kind of commitment to the bit to look at the clearly broken and often unseemly world of professional guardianship and think “Now THAT is hilarious,” but Blakeson and company manage to do it.

It certainly helps that the director has an absolutely peak-of-her-powers Rosamund Pike on which to hang that narrative. The sheer force of her performance brings more than enough fuel to keep this particular fire burning, even as we delve deeper into the unsavory nature of the world in which her character operates.

It’s rare to find a movie in which no one is a good person. It’s even rarer for such a movie to work. And yet, even though there’s no one to root for, the laughs keep coming. Sure, those laughs are born of the more cynical parts of ourselves, but hey – even if you feel bad for laughing, you still laughed.

Marla Grayson (Pike) views herself as a predator in a world of prey. Specifically, she makes her living as a professional court-appointed guardian for the elderly and infirm. With help from shady doctors and even shadier assisted living facility directors, Marla convinces judges to put people into her care – people that she then cuts off from their families while selling off their assets and emptying their bank accounts.

Marla and her associate Fran (Eiza Gonzalez, “Bloodshot”) get a hot tip from one of their doctors. According to Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt, “Modern Persuasion”), she’s got a live one – a wealthy woman with no family or heirs who is starting to show hints of memory loss. This is what Marla and her team call a “cherry” – someone ripe for the picking who won’t be missed. And so, with an assist for Dr. Amos and her crooked rest home director pal Sam (Damian Young, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”), Marla makes her case in front of the well-meaning but naïve Judge Lomax (Isiah Whitlock Jr., “Da 5 Bloods”). The result: Marla and her team take over the life of one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest, “Let Them All Talk”).

But there’s a lot more to Jennifer Peterson than meets the eye.

As it turns out, there IS someone who will miss Jennifer Peterson. Someone powerful enough to send high-powered lawyers like Dean Ericson (Chris Messina, “She Dies Tomorrow”) to try and undo what Marla has done. Someone willing to send armed thugs to do what lawyers can’t. Someone like Roman (Peter Dinklage, “The Croods: A New Age”), an extremely wealthy criminal who has his own reasons for wanting Jennifer Peterson where he can keep an eye on her.

But Marla, the self-styled lioness, refuses to concede. Instead, wielding little more than a tight smile, a vape pen and an encyclopedic understanding of the intricacies of family law, she intends to cash in as fully as she can, consequences be damned … and there will be consequences.

“I Care A Lot” works in the way that a lot of the best dark comedy works, in that this movie could easily have been a straightforward (albeit somewhat over the top) dramatic film and still functioned. Instead, Blakeson is able to mine the bleak realities of the situation for laughs. Cynical, often uncomfortable laughs, but laughs – and big ones – nevertheless. Does the film’s timeline and internal logic get a little wonky by the third act? Absolutely, but you probably won’t care because you’ll be having so much fun hissing at everyone.

By treating the uncompromising and corrupt bureaucracy of the elder guardianship machine as fodder for comedy instead of tragedy, we’re given a degree of insight into that world that might otherwise have been lost. These people aren’t evil for the sake of evil – they’re greedy grifters or con artists or useful idiots. There’s nuance buried within the film’s lack of nuance, if that makes any sense – acknowledging the fundamental absurdity of it all turns the tragic into the comedic. There are occasional feints toward commentary on classism and sexism, but those insights are brief and fleeting.

Still, it should be noted that any and all of these insights are in service to the much larger picture – a story of terrible people doing terrible things, often to other terrible people.

Leading the way in terms of terribleness is Pike, who is simply outstanding in this movie. There’s a brittle iciness to her character that she retains throughout; even when she smiles, there’s a predatory vibe to it – it never touches her eyes. From her always-exquisite hair to her omnipresent vape pen, she is the very portrait of selfish self-assuredness. She is willing to do anything – ANYTHING – to win, no matter what the game winds up becoming.

She’s not alone, though. Dinklage manages to both embody and subvert myriad tropes regarding organized criminals; he can be bombastic or calculating, depending on that which is called for by the situation. Wiest is a hoot, taking hold of her scenes with both hands and giving them a big shake – my sole issue is that I would have liked to see more of her. And the rest of the ensemble shines as well – Messina and Gonzalez are highlights, but literally everyone here is really good at being really terrible.

“I Care A Lot” isn’t going to work for everyone. It can be tricky, embracing a story in which almost everybody is a legitimately bad person. However, thanks to the tremendous talent of the cast, we can engage with these characters even as we wish them the worst. And that, friends, is one successful dark comedy.

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 22 February 2021 09:14

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