A lot of films have imagination; not all of them follow through.
Marla (Rosamund Pike) and Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) have found a grift; have their victims declared unable to care for themselves, put them in an aged care facility, assume responsibility for their care and assets, sell them off and pocket the proceeds. With enough industry contacts in on the game, all goes well until they pick someone (Dianne Wiest) who, as they are informed, has powerful and increasingly dangerous friends.
A drama with overwhelmingly comedic tinges or at least aspirations thereof, it’s a subject prevalent in the minds of Australians given the Royal Commission and else too lacking adequate cinematic exploration. Released almost 25 years to the day since another comedy, Happy Gilmore, touched on the same theme, I Care A Lot did well at the outset to set up the scheme targeting persons of varying vulnerability and explore its intricacies, indignities and most importantly consequence.
Containing the best and most darkly humorous scenes herein landing by virtue of just how much this sadly rings true, Pike’s superb ability to convey menace, contempt, disinterest and superiority all below a calm veneer of adroit professionalism will likely see this performance widely compared to her turn as Amy Dunne, a wholly different character in a wholly different circumstance with distinct and otherwise defined motivations and but a few of the same traits. Matching the quality of that previous performance, it’s the writing that lets Pike down, as it does the always excellent Peter Dinklage; cursed with choosing interesting but poorly written roles.
Pivoting to traditional drama-thriller territory from what could have been a deeper exploration of the scam, its scope and how similar abuses of power can and do play out in real life, watching Marla’s chance evasions from danger throw this whole movie into the realm of Hollywood crime schlock. It’s fine to have <insert standard bad guys trope> as your nemeses but it’s not interesting when we’ve had this explanation not as a starting point but method of lazily injecting sinister time and time again. More interesting still would have been a greater dissection of any number of minor characters complicit in the fraud say, for instance, the recurring Judge whose extent of culpability is left shrewdly ambiguous.
Yet further muddled is something as simple as Marla’s motivation; we’re told it’s all about her loved one and sure there’s a desire to make money yet bringing up the events of 1807 as a driving factor analogous to her own aspirations absent elaboration confuses rather than furthers our reckoning with Marla. If she’s doing this to survive that’s one thing but the film suggests these myriad factors which rather than play off each other conflict with her decisions and bases for actions, as does the thoroughly more interesting suggestion that Marla is simply a sociopath; touched on but sparingly explored.
What this film does manage well are its minor characterisations; Wiest’s Jennifer shares one absolutely marvellous comic encounter with Marla and the standout best scene in the film depicts Chris Messina’s lawyer in conflict with the latter; playing out as a typical negotiation might yet with greatly more novel stakes. The hired goons too have much more personality than their traditional filmic counterparts with one especially funny moment transpiring from the muscle turning up undercover at an aged care facility with pullovers in tow.
I Care A Lot thinks it’s a story about American idealism and the pitfalls of ruthless money-moneymaking, which to an extent it is, but just because something starts and ends that way (the faux moralising at the outset does not help) doesn’t make it so where there’s a whole 90+ minutes when we’re really just focused on who will get the upper hand. Ending on a moment meant to resonate through an intended reckoning with this tangent, the tone is just as confused with Marla’s own drive, lending a convoluted rather than complex air to I Care A Lot which however entertaining wishes it was properly about something greater.
I Care A Lot is now streaming on Amazon