I Care a Lot is a deliciously dark comic thriller that You’ll Enjoy a Lot. It’s heartless. It’s vicious. It’s savage. It’ll make you dread old age even more than you already do, if that’s possible. It’s horrible in so many ways — cruel? Did I mention it’s also cruel? — yet it is also smart, stylish and such a fun watch.
Written and directed by J. Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed), the film stars Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson, who runs a business ripping off old people. Or, to put it more formally, she is a court-appointed legal guardian for elderly wards — or ‘marks’, as she calls them — whose assets she then seizes perfectly legally. Her voiceover at the outset tells us where she’s at. The American dream, she says, is a hoax. ‘I used to be like you, thinking that working hard and playing fair would lead to success and happiness. It doesn’t… There are two types of people in this world. Those who take and those who are took.’ The first shot is of the back of her head. Her bob introduces us to her: precise, razor-sharp, powerful, controlled. You don’t mess with it. Or her. That’s understood, straight away.
Her company, Grayson Guardianship, is a major enterprise with a swish office, several staff and a wall covered in photos of her ‘marks’ which are also her ‘cash cows’. She has a partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), who is also her girlfriend, and there are others in on the scam. One is Sam Rice (Damian Young), the manager of the local care home, and the other is a doctor (Alicia Witt) who, for a cut, will sign patients off as unable to look after themselves. She’s happy to get them off her books as the elderly are ‘high-maintenance a-holes’, and she’s spotted a ‘cherry’, someone ripe for the picking. This is Jennifer Peterson (played by the legendary Dianne Wiest), who has no known relatives and is sitting on a fortune. Marla is beyond excited: ‘A golden fucking goose!’
Within no time she has charmed an emergency judge and Peterson has been shuffled off to the care home. But Peterson has a secret. She does have family. She has a son, Roman (Peter Dinklage), who’s a mobster. He loves his ma, and wants her back. So this becomes a film about two people who won’t be took trying to take down the other.
The starting point for the film was a New Yorker article in 2017 on guardianship fraud, so it’s serious in that way, and you get that. The scene where Peterson is forced to leave her own home is upsetting, and it’s always clear we’re on her side. This could have gone so wrong, tonally, but Blakeson keeps us firmly entertained because Marla isn’t just appalling, she’s thrillingly appalling, and while cinema is full of male characters who are ruthlessly ambitious, there are few women, which makes her especially compelling.
Plus the film is not just stylish; it’s fantastically stylish. And there are some fine jokes, particularly when Chris Messina turns up as Roman’s lawyer. As for Pike, who has just been nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, she is perfect: icy and ferocious, yet enthralling rather than alienating. I can’t say how she pulls that off, only that she does.
True, the film is wildly implausible at some junctures — are all judges so stupid? — and it does fall away in the final act, which becomes more of a straightforward, sometimes violent tale of one-upmanship between Marla and Roman — Pike and Dinklage have great chemistry. There’s also a subplot concerning diamonds that complicates matters unnecessarily. But all you need to know is that it’s absolutely horrible. In a very fun way.
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