Rosamund Pike gave my favorite performance of the year 2014, in what has become her signature role, as Amy Elliott Dunne in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Since then, she regrettably hasn’t been able to do a lot of similar work. Alas, fear not! Writer/director J Blakeson’s new Netflix black comedy I Care a Lot brings Pike thrillingly back into Amazing Amy mode, and the film is simultaneously nastier and uglier than Gone Girl, and it’s a fascinatingly mean-spirited hoot for most of its running time. In fact, it comes so close to greatness, but drops the ball at the last second.
Marla Grayson (Pike) is a con artist who uses the courts to grant her guardianship over older people, convincing them they cannot take care of themselves. She’ll then place her victims in a nursing home, strip them of any communication with the outside world, and sell their home and all of their belongings and keep the profits for herself. Her latest target (Dianne Wiest) comes with some unexpected baggage, however, and could be far more than she initially appears.
Someone on Twitter described I Care a Lot as like a #girlboss Uncut Gems, and I can’t get that out of my head. I Care a Lot moves at a breakneck speed and Marla is making things worse for herself at every possible second and is seemingly enjoying every second of it. I Care a Lot never asks you to root for Marla or to sympathize with her in any way. She’s the most villainous of antiheroes – there’s nothing redeemable about her at all, unless you count Pike’s razor-sharp blonde bob or her incredible monochromatic power suits.
And it’s worth noting that without Rosamund Pike, this movie probably would not have worked for me at all. She gives the kind of performance where it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, and without her deliciously cruel performance, this movie would really have no point. She’s the steely ice queen who’s polite when she needs to be and utterly ruthless and deeply maniacal when it suits her. Rosamund Pike should always be making movies like this, and we shouldn’t have to wait seven years between them.
I Care a Lot is a film without anyone to really root for, and if that’s a problem for you, this may limit your enjoyment of the film. Everyone is terrible and out to get each other, and I wouldn’t call anyone a protagonist. There are side characters that seem nice enough, but don’t really have the power to move the pieces on this demented chess board. And at the end of the day, this is a film entirely about power and who has the wits to betray who. This is a film with a bleak, reprehensible worldview and it’s a sharp indictment of late-stage capitalism and those who benefit from it and those who don’t.
In the supporting cast, we have Eiza González as Fran, Marla’s accomplice and lover, and she’s working hard to bring something genuinely human out of Marla’s personality, that ultimately isn’t there. Peter Dinklage shows up as a threat to Marla, and I don’t want to tell you very much about him, but he’s suitably terrifying in this role. I hope his career really can have the great second act his performance here suggests. It’s also a welcome treat to have two Dianne Wiest films in less than a year, and while she has less scenery to chew on here than in Let Them All Talk, she’s certainly having a ton of fun in her snippy back-and-forth takedowns with Pike. Also, Chris Messina isn’t in a lot, but he comes very close to stealing the entire movie in one standout scene.
The film’s ending is meant to be divisive, I assume, and it didn’t work for me. It reminded me of the horror movie ending where you almost get the bleak, uncompromising, horrific ending that leaves you shaken and uncertain of the world around you, and then at the last second someone wakes up and it was all a dream, and the world isn’t so scary after all. It’s difficult to talk about this without spoiling anything, but I will say if this film ended about one minute before it did, this would be a nearly perfect film. Blakeson gives the viewer the satisfying ending they want, and it feels like a fatal mistake.
But overall, I Care a Lot is saying a lot about systemic corruption and late-stage capitalism and those with power and without it. It’s an exciting, fast-paced, deliciously wicked comedic thriller that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but stops just short of leaving you feeling horrible, and drops the ball when it tries to find a sense of ironic catharsis. It’s a vile and cynical little story about merciless people and the merciless world around them, and the systems that allow horrible things to happen, and it feels necessary right now.
I Care a Lot is streaming now on Netflix.