I Care a Lot

I Care a Lot ★½

Marla Grayson is not just psychotic. She’s also stupid. Beyond stupid. That’s not in itself a problem. Self-destructive choices have not rarely led to tense cinematic experiences. One of the most memorable recent examples, which ironically also prominently features diamonds, was “Uncut Gems”. But Howard’s mania was driven by a deep-rooted addiction that overrode all common sense. Marla’s entire success rides on cold, callous business acumen. She wouldn’t have made it this far it she had let idiocy fueled by pettiness get in the way. Don’t get me wrong, she is an awful protagonist, who manages to pull off the minor miracle of making Amy Dunne, Rosamund Pike’s character from “Gone Girl”, seem levelheaded. She deserves nothing but the absolute worst life has to throw at her. But Marla’s downfall needed to come at the hands of a character flaw that makes sense as opposed to one ludicrous bad judgement call piled on top of the other.

It's possible that this is a better film than I experienced it as, but it’s definitely been a while since I have felt this much loathing towards one. I hated “I Care a Lot”. A lot. The premise is not without promise and could have shone a much-needed light on elder abuse in this country. Marla Grayson is a predator whose business model is firmly rooted in reality. Some of the usual schemes aren’t as elaborate as hers, but just as despicable. It starts with phone calls about outstanding bills, overdue taxes or some legal issue that many people at that age are no longer able to distinguish from bullshit. But Marla goes several steps further. She runs a racket with the deliberate participation of a doctor and the oblivious assistance of a judge and manages to bring older people into her charge, who are placed into a facility and lose all control over their assets. It’s vile and likely happens all too often in an economy in which everything can be monetized.

The problem is that the film ultimately isn’t actually interested in all that. It gets the viewers in the door, but swiftly devolves into a stupid gangster psycho thriller in which a cold-blooded sociopath and her girlfriend with only a marginally more developed self-preservation instinct go up against the Russian mob. Dianne Wiest, the latest and one of the most promising victims of Marla’s government-sanctioned grift, vanishes from the proceedings almost entirely during the second half. Shit gets weird when the audience is put in a position where they find themselves rooting for a murderous criminal to save the day. Importing drugs is one thing apparently but ripping off old people is definitely crossing a line. Yes, this isn’t exactly meant to be taken at face value, but the satirical undercurrent isn’t pronounced enough to save “I Care a Lot” from itself. Satire entails humor and when your main character is the personification of the most cynical vices of capitalism it’s hard for the laughter not to get stuck in your throat.

I want to reiterate that anti-heroes who weaponize their skills in a society in which demand for them exists are not inherently off limits. Think “Nightcrawler”. But such a fine balancing act requires a much cleverer approach than this ham-fisted take by J Blakeson. The suggestion that any of Marla’s actions should be seen under the light of a badass businesswoman is offensive and a perversion of the idea that women need to be tough to succeed. And don’t even get me started on the awful, superfluous and unflattering LGBTQ component. Or the annoyingly screechy electronic score. I’ll stop now because otherwise I’ll keep ranting for three more paragraphs, but you get the gist. Let me just say this in terms of bad Netflix originals that are getting awards recognition; I’d much rather watch “Hillbilly Elegy” again, repeatedly, than have to sit through even one single scene of “I Care a Lot” one more time.

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