The opening of I Care a Lot starts with a voice over where Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson tells us that there is ‘no such thing as good people’. This is an edict that runs true in the film as a series of characters who would normally be assumed to be among society’s most sweet and giving individuals; a doctor, a care home manager, a legal executor and a nice older lady, are each shown to be corrupt and self serving to extreme degrees. Even those whose greatest flaw is weakness and gullibility, as with a judge, the police and a team of nurses, are naive to the point of criminality. Marla, the movie’s protagonist and ostensibly its hero, is the worst. Her living, which is a very comfortable one, is made forcing pensioners to give their legal rights and finances over to her so she can pack them off to a home and use their money as she chooses. The title is ironic because she doesn’t care, she doesn’t care at all, but the movie’s trick is in how it make us care about her and it does this through some very knowing manipulation of gender politics.
The fact is that Marla is totally reprehensible, she is a monster and the start of the film goes to great pains to show this. The sequences where she obtains guardianship over Dianne Wiest’s wealthy mid seventies retiree Jennifer, robbing her of any rights, independence or power, and all with the confines of the law, play out like a horror film with this false, smiling woman driving everything as another woman loses all hope. At this point her femininity offers no saving grace at all but when she comes up against Jennifer’s dangerous cohorts, who are men and who underestimate her largely because she is female then chauvinism comes into play and we start to take her side. There is no escaping it, if Marla was a man then the audience would not want to see her prevail but she isn’t so we do.
When we see her stand up to male intimidation we cheer, when she calls out her antagonists for the arrogant misogyny they display in calling her a bitch and threatening to kill her when they can’t get her to do what they want it’s high fives all round. When she and her female partner are punched and beaten but come back at their aggressors with intelligence and sophisticated planning then our feminist hearts swell. It’s not that we forgive her but we want to see the men fail. In the end we in the audience are being played just as much as those poor over sixty fives up but even when you know it is happening it is hard to complain. This movie does show strong women with plenty of the old Ripley Factor and that is no bad thing. The fact that she is a nasty person too, well even that has some equality to it and they play on this in the latter scenes as well.
There is also something interesting in this respect in the very closing moments but we can’t discuss that here, which is just as well as I’m not sure whether or not it might undermine these positive representations of women just a little. There is one aspect I’m not sure about that we can get into here though. Pike’s Grayson is in a relationship with Fran played by Eiza González. It is great to see González playing a part that is built around more than her looks as too frequently in films such as Baby Driver, Alita: Battle Angel, Hobbs & Shaw and Bloodshot she has portrayed the sexy assassin. It is similarly good to see more incidentally gay characters on screen but I am worried that given the context and the definite villain stylings of the characters that this might fall into the less than positive psycho lesbian trope seen in films and shows such as Basic Instinct, Cruel Intentions, The Hunger, Buffy and Rebecca (the 1940 version, less so the 2020 one).
Minor concerns aside one thing I am sure about, and with fair feedback that I don’t always make it clear if I am recommending a movie or not ringing in my ears, is that I Care a Lot is a really good film. I’ve referenced how it feels like a horror flick at the beginning but this is actually a great reframing of the classic 90s thriller. There is corruption, murder, mafia, mystery and revenge. If they’d made this twenty five years ago it would have ended with an overblown shoot out in a care home but writer/director J Blakeson knows where the line is, walks it but doesn’t cross it. It’s smart use of gender representations is only one way in which the narrative toys with cinematic conventions and the handling of notions of victimhood, with both Jennifer and Marla (and others) is fascinating. The plot keeps you guessing and the performances are delicious. I liked it, a lot.
I have no idea why the posters say otherwise but here in the UK at least, I Care a Lot is on Amazon Prime