Early in the new Netflix dark comedy, I Care A Lot, our narrator tells us that playing fair is a joke. It's the rich keeping the poor lower on the totem pole. Some people take, and some are getting took. But our narrator is Marla Grayson, and as she viciously asserts, 'I'm a fucking Lioness.' Well, with her short blonde bob and a vape pen in hand, she exudes fairness, compassion, and ease. But oh, how wrong an interpretation that would be. Marla is a crooked legal guardian who drains the savings of her elderly wards until they're dead, thrown in the trash, and she can go fishing for a new soul.
Written, directed, and produced by J Blakeson, the film thrives on performances and design. What may have otherwise been a film of caricatures in the crime genre doing bad things is instead delectably wicked. Rosamund Pike is deliciously cast as the evil Marla Grayson, who not just gets her comeuppance but fights until the very last moments. With a runtime of under two hours, the film manages to escalate the stakes repeatedly with winning results.
Be careful who you try to swindle because you might just meet your match... or worse.
Our introduction to Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is during court proceedings over her guardianship of an elderly woman whose son Feldstrom (Macon Blair) is trying to visit his dying mother. Marla auctioned off all of the assets, paying herself a hefty premium and prevented Feldstrom from visitation. He contends that it must be illegal, but Marla, with poise and experience, informs the judge that the mother's condition has worsened, and she only hopes to give her the care she deserves because she has no skin in the game.
Well, you don't fault Feldstrom for spitting in her face outside the courtroom after the judge denies him access to his mother. Marla wants money, and it doesn't matter who she has to step on to get it.
Later, Marla gets a call from her friend Dr. Amos who informs her that one of her wards, Alan Levity, has passed away. He was a cash cow for Marla, but Dr. Amos suggests a replacement; Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist). Jennifer is elderly, lives alone, not married, no children, three savings accounts, and ready to be shipped off to a retirement facility. Marla hesitates, but her business/romantic partner Fran (Eiza González) thinks it's a winner, and Dr. Amos convinces the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to put Jennifer in Marla's care.
While Jennifer sits at her dining table in her beautiful, modern home, pouring herself a cup of tea and unfolding a newspaper, she hears a knock on the door. Marla is now her legal guardian, and Jennifer is being removed immediately to a retirement home, where Marla will control her medication, food, sleeping, and contact to the outside world.
No sooner than Jennifer is sitting in her new bedroom in the facility, wondering how she, of sound mind, was put there, is Marla already appraising Jennifer's belongings, repainting the home, and putting up a for-sale sign. But unbeknownst to Marla, Jennifer has ties to the Russian Mafia. Her son Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) learns of Jennifer's incarceration and immediately seeks revenge. Marla may be cold-hearted and conniving, but she won't get away with Jennifer's assets quickly. Evil is hunting evil, and it's going to get messy.
Played with dark humor and consistent thrills, I Care A Lot would've been a tough sell had it not been for Rosamund Pike's performance. Her emotional range heightens each escalation as hers and Fran's lives are in peril as Roman seeks immediate revenge.
In one delicious scene, a humored Jennifer sits in the courtyard of the nursing home and laughs that Marla has no idea what's coming for her. She asks Marla the date, and it's the 15th, which means Jennifer has not only been in the retirement home for a week, but she missed a meeting with her son on the 8th. Jennifer laughs, 'Oh, you're in trouble now.' Marla's confidence begins to crumble, and Pike's excellent performance conveys the cracking veneer of her pristine exterior.
The quick editing by Mark Eckersley ensures that the pacing never lags, even when the plot can sometimes feel cyclical. It's a feat to watch bad people doing horrible things and not question morality because I Care A Lot knows that to be even worse is better at the end of the day. Cinematographer Doug Emmett's colorful imagery and natural lighting help stylise the film beyond its revenge tropes. It's almost glorious to watch Marla's downfall as she's the perfect villain, a cockroach who does terrible things to people and refuses to back down.
Let the chase begin.
Now available to stream on Netflix.