By now, you may be passingly familiar with the guardianship grift in our country. Last Week Tonight even did an episode on how disturbingly easy it is for a stranger to gain control and exploit the life of a senior citizen for personal financial gain. J Blakeson takes this conceit and use it for his vicious, brutal new movie I Care a Lot, expanding the concept to show America as one big scam where the only active players are the predators. It’s a pointedly bleak starting point, but Blakeson and his cast handle the concept with a cool, detached style that allows the audience to go along on this wicked ride while we also set a reminder to make sure our parents and grandparents are protected at call costs.
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is a con artist working legally as a professional guardian. She has the system wired so that she can have doctors and the courts working to her advantage to essentially kidnap the elderly, take control of all their assets, and stick them in a home where they’ll never see their families again. Marla and her girlfriend/partner Fran (Eiza González) think they’ve landed a whale when they come across the wealthy Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a woman who supposedly has no family connections whatsoever. They go through their standard game plan of stripping Jennifer of her independence and wealth, but unfortunately for Marla, Jennifer has an undisclosed relationship with a mysterious mobster (Peter Dinklage) who will go to great lengths to see Jennifer released from Marla’s care. But Marla, proud of her identity as a predator, refuses to concede to anyone.
You have to go into I Care a Lot accepting that you won’t really be “rooting” for anyone, and that’s okay when the characters are compelling as they are here. Pike made waves in 2014 for her performance as the twisted and unforgiving Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, and Marla is very much in that mold of an apex predator who refuses to be cowed by anyone. Dinklage is equally delightful as the unflappable mobster, and his more “fantastical” evil (Marla’s corrupt guardian kidnapping people’s parents hits closer to home than a Russian gangster) provide a nice release valve. We’re essentially watching two monsters fight for two hours, and as long as you can set aside the weight of their vile behavior, their callousness towards humanity, and what it says about America that these kinds of people not only avoid justice but prosper, you can have a pretty good time with what Blakeson is selling.
Some viewers probably won’t be able to make it past the first twenty minutes or so because the picture becomes so bleak. Marla relishes in her amoral, predatory behavior, and watching her game the system to her own ends is far from comforting. When we finally learn that there’s more to Jennifer and that Marla has messed with the wrong old lady, it’s like you can finally breathe again even if you don’t know how the story is going to turn out. You need that outsized element because Marla’s evil is so pedestrian and streamlined that without Dinklage’s sweet-toothed mobster, you’d have a total bummer of the picture. Thankfully, by the time Chris Messina’s shark of a lawyer comes in to threaten Marla, the film has found its rhythm and you’re eager to see which human trafficker will get their comeuppance.
The film starts getting a little shaky in its third act as it tries to escalate the conflict and both monsters start the lose the control that defines their power, and there are some plot developments that feel particularly rushed and slapdash, but I Care a Lot is frequently able to coast on its cool, calm, and nasty presence. It’s so far away from anything polite and decent that you can revel in its outsized circumstances even if those circumstances don’t always make a whole lot of sense.
You certainly have to be in the right headspace for I Care a Lot. I completely sympathize with anyone who doesn’t have much of an appetite for watching horrible people fight with the knowledge that at least one of them has to come out on top when the movie begins by saying that decency and kindness are for gullible poor people. But sometimes we don’t have an appetite for what’s nice, and sometimes the best way to look at the awfulness of the world is through a stylized, satiric lens. That’s what Blakeson gives us with I Care a Lot and while you might be queasy afterwards, you’ll still be grateful for the splash of cold water.
I Care a Lot does not currently have a release date.