I've never quite considered the importance and function of an effective protagonist in a story, like I did while watching the new Netflix film "I Care A Lot." "Likability" is not a necessity, but when a film gives you absolutely nothing to care about, and no one to root for, it's hard to become emotionally invested...and when there is no emotional investment, it's incredibly hard to feel like a movie is worthy of your time.
If you "care" about anything while watching "I Care A Lot," it will likely be in favor of the demise of any single character we are introduced to. And this particular gaggle of morally-bankrupt men and women will make you wish that a nuclear bomb would just drop on the whole lot of them, and it's a shame and a massive let-down that anyone at all comes out of this thing unscathed.
The premise however, had a lot going for it. Marla Grayson (the always effective Rosamund Pike) is an absolute shark, a cold-blooded, ruthless woman who has learned how to "game the system" of court-appointed legal guardians. Along with her partner (both in crime and in life), Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), they swoop in on elderly people and take custody of their lives, profiting from them by selling off their assets and managing their estates. As we see at the start, these situations are tragic and sometimes downright cruel, with elderly parents basically being "kidnapped" by the state, even as their adult children are cut out of the loop. Speaking of loops, this shocking loophole in our system of public care seems like a major miscarriage of justice, or for women like Marla, the perfect climate to strike it rich.
But they come across the wrong women when Marla takes custody of Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). Jennifer is what they call a "cherry" in the business, an elderly woman with no children, and no family at all (aka more money and opportunities for Marla to exploit). But Jennifer is not at all who she seems. A mysterious gangster (Peter Dinklage) wants the woman left alone, and starts to apply pressure on Marla to drop the case. Perhaps it is this gangster who has come across the wrong women in Marla.
Under normal movie circumstances, Dinklage's character would be someone we would be rooting for, to bring Marla and her despicable scheme crashing to the ground. But not in this movie. Dinklage is a brooding criminal who also just so happens to make most of his money in human-trafficking...not necessarily the type of guy an audience will simply get behind.
Even still, there is a level of fun to the mystery that unfolds over the film's first half as you try to make heads or tails of what exactly is going on, and who might come out on top. But as the second-half unravels, you realize that it's the viewer who is getting gamed.
One ridiculous plot development leads to another, all the while you will be searching the frame for anyone at all to relate to. Ridiculousness leads to implausibility, even for a black-comedy/thriller such as this, and just when you think it reaches new, uncharted levels of absurdity, a "shock" ending finally introduces the idea of karma and consequence, way too late. Without giving anything away, but at that point, it's almost preferred that the filmmaker "go in the other direction" instead of trying to tidy up his film with some sort of morality lesson.
"I Care A Lot" isn't daring enough to be original and in the midst of all of its clever plot twists, forgets to give the audience anything at all to care about.
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes.
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, Alicia Witt, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Written and Directed by J Blakeson ("The 5th Wave," "The Disappearance of Alice Creed").
"I Care A Lot" is available on Netflix starting Friday, February 19th, 2021.
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