I Care a Lot (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★
Marla Grayson is a taker. We learn right from the get-go that her goal is to be filthy rich and if that means having to take advantage of the most vulnerable, she is happy to oblige. Because in her mind, if she doesn’t grab the opportunity, someone else will. Marla makes a living as a court-appointed guardian for the elderly, preferably wealthy with plenty of assets that can be sold, who can no longer take care of themselves.
But sometimes her targets are perfectly healthy in the body and mind, and so an arrangement can be made with a crooked doctor (Alicia Witt) to write a note for the court claiming otherwise. Such is the case with Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), unmarried and without children, who made a fortune in the finance sector for forty years. Marla has no idea about the amount of trouble she is about to walk into since the fortune to be made is far too alluring. Writer-director J Blakeson has riotous fun with his tale of greed.
“I Care a Lot” is a dark comedy, filled to the brim with unlikable characters who deserve what’s coming to them. There will be death threats, shooting, kidnapping, assault, and, yes, death. Blakeson is a step ahead in that he recognizes what viewers will be rooting for (morality, goodness, doing what’s right) and so he constructs a story with just enough rewards to make us happy and feel good but for the most part staying true to his vision: to present a portrait of America that unveils the delusion that is meritocracy—a concept ingrained in every child, especially children who come from a working class background. In reality, the United States is a country where the immoral thrives because they play—or prey—upon the rules that are rigged against those gullible enough to buy into the happy-go-lucky idea that if you just work hard enough, that if you do good and do what’s right for others, everything else will fall into place.
The picture is terrific entertainment because it is rooted upon reality while at the same time telling a story in a way that is specific, clear, informative, and quite shocking at times. We see through the eyes of Marla, played by the versatile Rosamund Pike, a villainess with not only a defined goal, she is sharp, funny, highly intelligent, dangerous, and truly despicable. Marla is a figure that we’d like to believe we are not (but some of us actually are exactly like her) and Pike plays the character like just another person trying to achieve the so-called American Dream… by making it a nightmare for others, especially the elderly and their desperate families. Surely someone like Marla would—or should—get her comeuppance… right? Blakeson has fun with this expectation.
The picture is at its best when providing the details of Marla’s occupation. Through her job, and her willingness to excel, the work becomes a twisted character study. Being crooked legal guardian requires an inviting smile, patience, cunning, an awareness of when to strike best in order to reap the most rewards. Marla is a self-described lioness and this can be observed when she looks at a defenseless old lady or gentleman. To her, they are tickets to her next meal, next grand vacation overseas, the next luxurious brand that she will wear or drive. Throughout the course of the picture, we will learn not only how much she values money but also her penchant for control, power, and status. Because when you have so much money, the money itself doesn’t matter as much; the thirst becomes about something else. The hole must be filled with something.
But this is not a story in which the characters recognize the error of their ways. Most of them are beyond help, beyond redemption. We can point at what is wrong with the characters and it is demanded that catharsis come in the form of punishment. But what does that say about us, especially when we consider ourselves to be the good guys? This is why “I Care a Lot” works as social commentary: it is pointed in all directions. By the end, the lessons are not black and white. They are shades of gray and we are inspired to consider where we fall into the moral spectrum. Or not. It can simply be digested as a clever tale, too.