It’s long overdue for women to have a chance at being antiheroes. Too often, the men get the juicy roles, while their less compromised partner gets dumped on by a misogynistic fan base. Think Walter and Skyler White, or Tony and Carmela Soprano.
Though I don’t expect I Care a Lot’s Marla Grayson to be admitted into the antihero Holy of Holies, it’s a lot of fun to watch Rosamund Pike play her with delicious villainy. The joy is doubled when she’s battling Peter Dinklage, sporting a man bun and ludicrous beard.
Writer/director J Blakeson has scored with an unlikely subject for a darkly comedic thriller: court-appointed guardianship of the elderly. Teaming up with a sleazebag nursing home director and a geriatrician who hates her patients, Marla manages to have able-minded old folks pronounced mentally unfit. Abetted by a gullible judge (an unusually subdued Isiah Whitlock Jr.; no “sheeeeeeeee-its” for us), Marla and her business partner/lover Fran (Elza González) then swoop in and bleed their assets dry.
It’s a horrifying prospect, and per Blakeson, one that’s a real thing. As a physician, I’ve heard whispers of such deeds, but nothing I could ever confirm. The most plausible tale I encountered involved a crooked sheriff turned Republican Party power broker, becoming suddenly wealthy by ingratiating himself to ladies in the early stages of dementia.
Nonetheless, Blakeson only dwells on the abhorrence of this practice at the open and close of I Care a Lot, when he uses it as a muddy metaphor for American greed run amok. Mostly it’s a setup for our two leads to start circling each other. Marla’s latest target is seemingly sweet, seemingly alone Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), yanked away from her morning tea and locked away at Berkshire Oaks Senior Living before you can say “scorched earth capitalism.”
But woe to Marla, Jennifer is a money-laundering front for her short-fused sociopathic son Roman (Dinklage). First comes a lawyer offering Marla a suitcase full of cash to undo her mistake, next come the goons. Dinklage plays his mounting frustration over his lackeys’ incompetence to the hilt: who knew launching a smoothie against a wall could be so hilarious? Wiest is delightful, too, her lip-smacking malevolence counter to her normally warm maternal typecasting.
However, this is primarily Marla’s show, and as portrayed by Pike and written by Blakeson, she is everything you need from an antihero. Her exploitative scam is just as damaging as Walter White’s alchemy, as socially toxic as Tony Soprano’s protection racket. But like them, you can’t help but root for her to survive into the next scene. There’s something perversely admirable in the way she stands up fearlessly to wave after wave of bullying men. I’d gladly watch a long-form TV series built around her character.
I Care a Lot could also be a textbook example of effective production design. Marla’s vape pen is a perfect prop, surrounding her periodically with infernal smoke. Her pricey heels and business attire make her ready for both the courtroom and executive boardroom.
I do wish Blakeson had dialed down the volume on his overpowering film score. And I could’ve done without the lens flares à la J.J. Abrams, a visual tic crying out for extinction. Still, this is satisfying entertainment, one I would not have begrudged paying twelve bucks to see on a big screen in normal times.