I Care a Lot presents the perfect opportunity for writer-director J Blakeson to bring the rare arc of a female antihero to the screen, but completely misses the opportunity by presenting a mere caricature of the protagonist Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike).
The new dark comedy thriller is currently being streamed on Netflix after its initial film festival release in the fall and has earned a Golden Globe nomination for Pike’s performance. Though it received praise from critics upon initial release, it is now being met with heavy criticism from fans. Part of that criticism is due to unconvincing plot writing, and part of it is due to surface-level characters lacking the depth needed for audiences to become fully invested.
Marla’s life centers around the economic exploitation of the elderly, though she is given the lawfully acceptable title of legal guardian to those under her care. It’s an entirely cruel scheme: finding a wealthy senior citizen, teaming up with an equally remorseless doctor to forge severe symptoms of that patient, fooling a judge into giving her guardianship status, and then liquidating her victim's assets while they spiral under the facilities of a nursing home. There are many other players involved in this scam: a Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt) who fakes her patients being mentally unfit, a nursing home director Sam Rice (Damian Young) who oversees Marla’s cruelty, and Marla’s girlfriend/assistant Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) to name a few, but Marla seems to be the most ruthless within the system. The ploy is entirely realistic, with current laws in place facilitating exploitation of this level. The job allows for Marla to accumulate considerable wealth, but with greed motivating her, she pushes it too far and ends up wronging a rich old woman, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who has ties to the Russian mob. As the mob's leader, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) tries to track Marla down and conspire his revenge, her web of cruelty thickens.
Entertaining? Sure—the plot gets just messy enough for it to have aspects of a thriller while being paced at a rate that keeps the audience captivated. Even visually, the movie successfully serves striking, saturated colors. And the costume and makeup choices for Marla’s character? Pretty near-perfect—her crisply cut blond bob fits well with stilettos and colorful pantsuits, making Marla’s character as visually intimidating as she is in nature. It should be noted that Marla and Fran’s relationship is organic, intimate, and not overdone like so many LGBTQ couples in movies where the writers throw them in for diversity points. Along with effective writing of their relationship, there is also a thought-provoking introduction of feminist themes through Marla’s character. She expresses how hard it is to be taken seriously as a “businesswoman” if not being ruthless. While this is certainly true in many professional arenas, it can’t be applied to the abuse of the most vulnerable elderly people; it’s just too cruel.
A lot of the film’s strengths were lost in the incongruent and lazy plot points. Some of the story elements—such as unrealistically thoughtless murder attempts made by professional hitmen or a sudden change of heart by the villain—feel haphazard and make the plot feel uneven. The attempted satirical take on the greeds of capitalism, taking shape in exploitation of old people, ends up getting lost in the impractical twists of the movie.
The superficial writing for Marla’s character also lost some of the audience. The only information given about Marla’s origins for evil is that she doesn’t want to be prey and that she wants to be rich—“I’m a f***ing lioness,” as she puts it. That’s really not a substantial enough backstory to make the audience want to root for the protagonist in any way. It’s hard to watch an antihero when there is no sympathy or humanity to latch onto. She’s cruel, cold, and remorseless without any other characteristics to make her likable. She doesn’t have to be likable for the movie to work, but for a fleshed out antihero to be successful, there has to be some humanity to make the audience pause. Instead, the audience wants to see Marla caught from the start of the movie making it hard to be invested in her story.
Pike’s talented performance makes Marla slightly more compelling, even if she was written poorly. It’s hard not to compare this performance to that of Gone Girl, Pike’s ruthless female antihero being the obvious parallel. But what Gone Girl does right and what I Care a Lot lacks is a morally complex protagonist that the audience cares enough about to continue watching.
I Care a Lot is entertaining enough if you’re looking for something to watch for a thrill, but it can quickly become frustrating if you pay attention.