A seriously pitch black comedy, this film explores a nasty industry that exploits long-term illnesses to profit from the elderly, to the point of deliberately stealing their family’s inheritance. British writer-director J Blakeson’s approach is so snappy and funny that I Care a Lot remains entertaining even when it gets downright vicious. So even if the characters are utterly repellent, we can’t take our eyes off them.
Rosamund Pike stars as Marla, a relentless predator who works as a court-appointed guardian to pensioners she has designated as incapacitated. With the dodgy help of a doctor (Alicia Witt) and a judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr), she can do pretty much whatever she wants, boldly having her wards declared unable to manage their own affairs and then prohibiting them from communicating with their families while she strips their assets to pay for their care, including of course her enormous fees. Her partner both in the job and at home is Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), and together they set their sights on Jennifer (Dianne Wiest), a never-married retiree with a huge, tantalising nest egg. As she becomes Jennifer’s guardian, Marla has her placed in a care facility and begins selling off everything she owns.
The angles of these and other characters make sure that the plot never travels down the predictable paths. This also allows the film to play in unexpected ways with themes involving girl power and female relationships.
But there’s something about this case that Marla doesn’t anticipate: there’s a brutal gangster named Roman (Peter Dinklage) who’s trying to find Jennifer, and he sends his shark-like lawyer (Chris Messina) to take Marla down. What follows is an escalating battle of wits that takes a series of shocking twists and turns. It of course helps that the premise is nerve-rattling to begin with, that people are actually capable of such cruelty. And since every character in this film is utterly ruthless, it’s clear that the story could go almost anywhere.
Thankfully, this far above average cast is great at making these unapologetically unlikeable characters gripping to watch. Pike gives the callous Marla a relentlessness that’s freakishly inspiring, as she charismatically smiles in the face of each obstacle. She also never has even the slightest tinge of guilt about making a profit from selling off people’s lives without their consent. Opposite her, the fabulous Wiest is a force to reckon with, even when she’s been sedated. She’s the one the audience is rooting for. And Dinklage finds some engaging earnestness underneath his edgy exterior.
The angles of these and other characters make sure that the plot never travels down the predictable paths. This also allows the film to play in unexpected ways with themes involving girl power and female relationships. That said, there are problems here, as some of the plot points stretch plausibility, and the ultimate message seems to be that you need to become a killer to make it in America. But the story’s final twists and turns carry a reverberating kick.
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I Care a Lot is now out on streaming platforms