Every so often, I will take some notes on a movie I find significant and write out my thoughts on them here. Today, I’m tackling I Care A Lot.

Spoilers are a dumb requirement for internet conduct, so here’s a Spoiler Panda to tide you over.

spoiler panda

  1. Comparisons to Gone Girl are inevitable and for more than just Rosamund Pike.  Marla’s monologue at the beginning eerily resembles the “cool girl” monologue from Pike’s other acting masterstroke, except we don’t wait for the second act to understand her true intentions. We get to the root of her malfeasance in the first minute; we get to the true nature of her malice within five minutes.
  2. Sometimes a morally heinous movie can lead to the best acting performances. Malcolm McDowell’s performance in A Clockwork Orange is brilliant because Kubrick let him be completely unhinged, eventually relying on McDowell’s performance to do all the heavy lifting in the movie that Kubrick himself film failed to do. Rosamund Pike’s stunning performance was able to mask many of the film’s morally questionable stunts by being so tenacious. Pike isn’t currently considered a serious contender for the Best Actress Oscar and has longshot odds of even earning a nomination. Still, she outdoes herself in I Care A Lot, turning from pure ID to public-facing smile in the drop of a dime, lifting and returning the veil over and over again in ways that somehow consistently remain shocking.
  3. At the same time, her performance is so perfect that it makes elder abuse seem captivating. This isn’t swindling working people out of their retirement funds. This is a crime with the same level of heinousness as abuse of a child or disabled person. If this took place at a nursery school rather than a senior living facility, would we find this grift captivating? I quickly stopped caring about where Marla comes from; there infinite other grifts she could have engaged in that don’t cross this line. I paused I Care A Lot ten minutes in because I was so horrified by the premise.
  4. When I picked it up again two days later, I wanted to see what kind of foil would emerge. I figured we were a long way from Erin Brockovich (or even Agent Denham), and a warrior who fought hard within the rules wasn’t going to stop her (the use of a cheap misogynistic rube at the beginning was a clear indication of that). To that end, I was relieved to see it take a Russian mob turn. I was primed for comeuppance, but after seeing twenty minutes of establishing Marla’s character, I was interested to see how her foil would match her.
  5. The second act of the movie turned into a standard “mob will destroy a human” story. I wouldn’t be lying if I said I got more thrills out of imagining the hammer that would fall on this mass elder abuser than the other way around. That may be because, while it wasn’t as significant as Pike’s performance, Dianne Wiest’s performance was sneakily titanic, providing the moral backbone of the movie. To me, Wiest’s wry smile and laughter when realizing Roman would be coming after Marla was the movie’s most satisfying moment. It was the only time when the true victim of the movie’s main cast had the upper hand.
  6. As much as I tried to stay on board with this movie, I lost it in the third act. There were plotholes abound to justify Marla and Fran’s existence. I personally have a harder time stomaching leaps of faith in logic in movies than others (which is admittedly ironic because it can be a major problem in my own screenwriting). But even giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, the Russian mob’s incompetence at killing Marla and Fran, inability to find the diamonds, and not vet Marla’s relationship with her mother made me want to yell at the screen multiple times over. This one stung in particular because of how severely it undercut the message of Marla as a ruthless survivor. The choice at the end to have Marla and Roman go into business was a natural byproduct of the movie’s message, but it took such a blunt object to get there that I lost trust in the movie to make a Big Point.
  7. It’s not my place to comment on the film’s statement about female entrepreneurship, or about the film’s multiracial or about Marla and Fran’s relationship. I will say that, for a film written and directed by a white man, I’m still not sure if writer/director J Blakeson integrated those elements to make a statement on how much these factors matter,  how little they matter, or what happens when groups traditionally denied entrepreneurial opportunities do when they get those opportunities. I don’t think I’m happy with how the film looks from either of those three points of view,
  8. The death at the end is a tag, not a twist. The joy doesn’t come from her getting a moral comeuppance by a humble justified lone gunman. The death tag was apparently deemed necessary to justify the capitalist thrill ride that this maddening third act tries so hard to bludgeon home a point that Blakeson has prioritized above logic and morality.
  9. This is the problem with noble grifter stories. The comeuppance that makes the movie feel comfortable in its morality is never as thrilling as the rush of the grift. It provides a filmmaker a moral pat on the back for what their slickness is doing to the audiences. It doesn’t really change anything for the audience; all they care about is the slickness. I Care A Lot is one of the most extreme versions of this problem in a while.