If a film starts with the protagonist’s monologue, it sets certain expectations which tend to dictate the mood of the rest of the screenplay. In the case of I Care A Lot (2021), Rosamund Pike’s strong shoulders carry that burden through and through.
It starts from the first frame onwards; she tells you about the bullshit statements that powerful and successful people (also known as the rich) endorse and how it’s misleading to those who are trying their best to make it (with hard work). And then goes to deliver that sentiment with full conviction all the way till the end (read between the lines).
Directed by J Blakeson, your bone shivers each time Rosamund Pike talks, both in the film and as a narratorial voice in that opening monologue. She’s not Amazing Amy; instead, she’s Marla Grayson, a fucking lioness.
What could have been a film about two ruthless cons engaging in a battle of wits and power turns out to be a not so memorable experience. The casting of I Care A Lot is promising, the acting is even better and the chemistry between the cast is stunning.
Where does it lack, then?
The conservatorships/guardianship law loophole in the US and the case studies from the last decade have been interesting, to say the least. Based on the premise of these case studies and their unscrupulous rulings and their aftermath, I Care A Lot zooms in on the life of one such fictional guardian- Marla Grayson (played by fantastic Rosamund Pike). Marla is selfless and consistently extends her services to provide guardianship to the elderly. With her band of close associates including doctors, legal administrators, and staff members of the assisted living facilities, she ends up allocating each of these senior citizens with sizeable bank balance and assets to one of the many assisted living facilities where she has an ongoing business relationship, and in turn uses her role as the state assigned guardian to pocket their life’s savings, assets, etc.
What’s business as usual for Marla and her partner Fran (Eiza González), turns into a living hell for all the parties involved when she inducts a certain Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) as a part of her guardianship fraud against the wishes and the consent of the elderly woman. Preston is an easy cash cow, and she comes with a seemingly clean record and more returns on her assets than anyone else in the picture. What Marla doesn’t account for is that Preston has concealed her identity and she is the mother of an unnamed former Russian mob boss (with a sweet tooth) and has a gang of people appointed by her son to track her down. Peter Dinklage, as the son, is just as good, if not better than Pike herself in this role against her.
Marla Grayson is indicatively the future of Amy Dunne. Her ridiculously charming personality coupled with her swift moves makes her every bit frightening to watch. A piercing glance from Marla can induce the fear of god in an atheist, and in a role of a lifetime, Rosamund Pike only gets better than her previous landmark performance. If Mrs. Dunne in Gone Girl (2014; David Fincher) was subservient, then Ms. Grayson is ten steps ahead of her. She is visibly fierce and out there for blood against blood. Some may even say, she is ambitchious, but all will agree that Amazing Amy walked so Marla Grayson could run.
If we zoom out of the protagonist and focus our attention on the bigger picture, you’ll see the trouble. The plot is straightforward, yet the film as a whole lacks a punch. In their attempt to deliver many loose threads of the subtext in the screenplay, they fail to deliver any in the right measure. There’s a visible power struggle, glorified sense of hustling in the name of chasing the American dream, bits of gender politics, and mind games that come into play.
For an instance, Marla wants to be a caregiver to those who can’t take care of themselves, the idea of caregiving is traditionally associated with feminine energy, knowing fully well she’s performing the role to guise her ambitions. Those ambitions to make it big are typically not associated with someone who is opting to undertake the role of a care provider for the elderly, as the nature of the job is selfless and not selfish. There are a lot of other minute details in the film, that may go into the spoiler zone but you get the gist. The screenplay tries to do more than just work around the plot and thus, fails to retain the simplicity of the plot, which could have made for an enthralling film given the dark thriller genre it plays out.
In that sense, I Care A Lot feels like eating a large serving of a day-old Pepperoni Pizza with extra cheese; it’s satiating enough and ticks all the right boxes, yet, something about it seems unexciting and cardboard-like. Too many things dull your interest mid-way through the back and forth chase between Marla and the mobster pack and it emerges to be a chase film instead of all that they built in the plot, involving the scam and the way she smoothly operates.
The film takes a turn to become a story of two frauds, which is fought on a level field between a woman who won’t stop at anything to get what she wants and a powerful man and his intention of rescuing his mother out. All of the girl boss-ery in brain and brawn is juxtaposed against alpha masculinity. You are pushed to the edge with this constant back and forth. Between a male mobster and a female scam artist, who would you pick and why? (Answer for 1 mark).
Perhaps, the lack of consistency is the main problem with the film. What starts off as a chilling story of a woman on a mission acquiring assets and controlling the lives of the elderly with the blessings of the state judiciary turns into a Hunan Pot meal; too many elements all in one. Please can we stick to getting one-pot meals at restaurants and not on streaming platforms? There’s no point in shoving everything— all psychological, socio-economic, sexual underpinnings and questions about ambitions and American Dream in one capsule-sized film.
Some films are remembered for their script and the others for their aesthetic. I Care a Lot by will be remembered for the verbal ping pong between Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage and their enthralling performance against each other. Despite an average script, all the actors ensure their performances and monologues will live rent-free in our heads for the time to come.
(If you care enough, you can stream I Care A Lot in India on Netflix.)
Anisha SaigalFollow to receive updates for new posts