[This is a re-post my of my review from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is now available on Netflix.]
We all suffer life’s little indignities. Sometimes it feels like we’re not in the midst of a bad day or a bad week but simply a bad world where we must grind through rudeness, callowness, and the general antipathy from our fellow human beings. Sometimes, we find enough good in our lives to push through, but for those who get crushed under the weight of these cruel cuts, eventually they break. Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore follows a woman who has reached that breaking point, and it’s fascinating to watch her find her inner strength emerge as he indulges her misanthropy. Thankfully, a weird, sweet companion helps bring some warmth to a film that sometimes has difficultly finding the right tone.
Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is deeply unhappy in her life, and reaches a tipping point when her home is robbed. She reaches out to her oddball neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) for help in tracking down her lost stuff after the police prove ineffective. As Ruth begins to step up and fight her own battles, her sense of empowerment leads her down the path of vigilantism, which ultimately finds her to running into the burglar and his crew .
There are times where it seems like Blair has a firm grasp on the story he’s telling, but the problem comes when I Don’t Feel… starts to come off like two completely different stories. Ruth and Tony inhabit a quirky, oddball, slightly dark comedy where Ruth’s soft-spoken nature and Tony’s eccentricities like using a morningstar and throwing stars as weapons come off as bizarre but captivating. They can be violent, but not in a way that feels dangerous or threatening. The burglars, however, feel like they’ve come from a far more sinister picture where the threat they pose is real and immediate. Blair wants to blend these two tones together, and it leads to mixed results.
At times, Ruth and Tony’s escapades feel endearing, especially when you have such strong performances from Lynskey and Wood. Lynskey remains one of the best actresses working today, able to imbue her characters with both a tangible sadness and surprise humor. Her characters never come off as contrived, but rather they feel lived-in, and her grounded performance is essential to Ruth’s quixotic quest and companion. Wood gets the more colorful character, but he never chews the scenery or tries to steal the spotlight. He understands the balance the picture requires, and adds a lot of humanity to Tony.
If the film had remained pitched at Ruth and Tony’s level, it would have been stronger and able to keep its momentum, but Blair gets audacious and wants to push them into darker territory. While I admire Blair’s ambition, and he’s clearly learned some terrific techniques from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blair previously starred in Saulnier’s films), he’s not quite as sure-handed yet, and the tonal shifts can feel abrupt. At one point, Ruth is having an awkward conversation with a detective, and a few scenes later, a guy is getting his hand blown off. It feels like Blair is reaching for both the darkness and the madness the Coen Brothers have displayed in different films, but comes away with an unsatisfying mixture of the two like Raising Arizona meets No Country for Old Men.