Review: I CARE A LOT, Come for Rosamund Pike's Performance, Stay for the Wicked Satire
The Trump Era may be officially over, but Trump’s legacy of greed, corruption, and malfeasance lives on in J Blakeson’s (Gunpowder, The Disappearance of Alice Creed) scabrous, scathing satire, I Care a Lot, a not particularly deep, if viciously funny, takedown of the for-profit nursing home industry, a malleable, safeguard-free civil court system, and the professional grifters, true believers in Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” credo as a life philosophy, who exploit both for maximum financial gain, here depicted in its entirety as an unnerving microcosm of unfettered capitalism (U.S.A Edition).
Tonally pitch-black, I Care a Lot may not be for everyone, but for semi-adventurous viewers who can appreciate Blakeson’s unapologetic embrace of non-redeemable, non-root-worthy characters or an underlying, borderline nihilistic, discomforting message.
The moment we meet Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a sociopath in well-tailored business suits and less-than-modest heels in fourth-wall-breaking voiceover mode, it’s clear Blakeson found the perfect vehicle, the perfect embodiment for his satire. Coldly manipulative one moment, feigning compassion and empathy the next, Marla easily convinces an easily befuddled family law judge, Lomax (Wendell Pierce), to accept her word over the accusations of a borderline violent son, Feldstrom (Macon Blair), of one of the elderly patients under her legal guardianship.
After gleefully sidestepping Feldstrom’s threats of violence, she’s on to her next mark or, in the parlance of grifters, a “cherry,” Jennifer Peterson (two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest), a recent retiree, a wealthy woman without any apparent relatives or close friends that might object, legally or otherwise, to Marla's plans for her and her assets.
With the help of Fran (Eiza González), her criminal accomplice and romantic partner, and an amoral geriatric physician, Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt), as much a profiteer and exploiter as Marla and Fran, Marla convinces Judge Lomax to grant her legal guardianship over Peterson, claiming Peterson’s declining health, including memory loss, require immediate removal from Peterson’s home and placement in an expensive assisted-care facility, the blandly named Berkshire Oaks.
Blakeson deftly cross-cuts between Peterson’s removal, her arrival at the assisted-living facility, the faux-friendliness of her new caretakers, and Marla and Fran’s pre-planned entry into Peterson’s cozy-looking home, selling practically everything, including the house, within hours (a slight stretch real-world wise), before turning to Peterson’s bank accounts and safety deposit boxes for additional asset-stripping.
By obtaining legal guardianship over Peterson, Marla inadvertently puts herself and Fran into the dangerous orbit of an equally ruthless Russian gangster, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), with a maternal fixation and an obsession for high-end pastries. In turn, Roman’s involvement sets off a series of plots and counter-plots, revenge and counter-revenge that becomes more absurd and illogical with each turn or twist.
Absurdity, though, doesn’t qualify as I Care a Lot’s biggest problem or issue. That dubious award goes to Blakeson’s continued insistence in eliciting audience sympathy for Marla and Fran’s relationship, a difficult, if not impossible, ask given everything Marla says and does, indicating she’s a conscience-free sociopath and conscience-free sociopaths generally can’t make or maintain non-transactional, emotional investments in others.
As a character, Marla might fall on the wrong side of the suspension of disbelief, but with Pike, a performer who’s spent the two-plus decades between Die Another Day and Gone Girl honing an icy, distant onscreen persona, it almost doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is that Pike-as-Marla is rarely less than mesmerizing, turning a character who should repel and disgust audiences into one we begrudgingly admire or even respect, albeit purely in a fictionalized, fantasy setting. (As always, it bears mentioning that representation doesn’t equal endorsement.)
For Blakeson's venal, narcissistic characters, greed isn’t only good (for Marla and others); it’s also highly profitable, consequence-free, and at least for most of I Care a Lot’s two-hour runtime, highly engaging too.
I Care a Lot is available to stream via Netflix in the United States and via Amazon Prime Video elsewhere.
I Care a Lot
- J Blakeson
- J Blakeson
- Rosamund Pike
- Peter Dinklage
- Eiza González
- Dianne Wiest