The Business of Caring (Film Review: “I Care A Lot”)

A hilariously dark spin on the legal guardianship paradigm. . . and a cautionary tale about getting your affairs in order while you still can.

SnapShot Plot

In the deliciously satisfying black comedy/morality play, I Care A Lot, Rosamund Pike (and her eccentrically severe bob cut) steals the ball and runs it the entire length of the field, turning in one of the sliest performances you’ll see in a long time. She plays the unapologetically ferocious and unscrupulous Marla Grayson, a court-appointed legal guardian who’s got patsy judges, corrupt geriatric doctors, and slimy nursing home directors in her pocket and up her sleeve, all too eager to do her bidding as she bilks unsuspecting seniors out of their life savings and straight into hers.

Marla’s partner in crime is Fran, played by Nora Jones look-alike, Eiza Gonz├ílez, whose devoted relationship with Marla is about the only thing that suggests some shred of humanity in the cash register which passes for a heart, in the latter. Things are going well, with a steady stream of ‘clients’ and solid turnover when they die, which opens up slots at nursing homes for new arrivals. When Marla’s dependably corrupt doctor-in-crime (played by Alicia DeWitt) recommends a new ‘mark’, it seems like a windfall. Jennifer Petersen is an elderly single woman who’s done quite well for herself, lives alone, and is becoming a bit ‘forgetful’. . . the perfect Dementia Play: no family or beneficiaries to contest the legal guardianship. Marla moves in on Jennifer like the cold-blooded shark she is, and Pike plays the scene with such unmitigated delight that we feel the wink at the camera before we even see the twinkle in her eye.

In a stroke of casting genius, Dianne Wiest’s portrayal of Jennifer Petersen delivers the perfect counterpoint to Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson. Because both actors are adept at personifying characters who are ‘playing’ different versions of themselves for a variety of motives: Marla is ‘playing’ someone who cares (but does not) and Jennifer is ‘playing’ a helpless and vulnerable victim (but is not). And in an exquisitely written scene between Marla and Jennifer, with language I’d never expect to hear from the mouth of Dianne Weist, the gloves and the masks come off entirely, gifting the audience that rare fly-on-the-wall moment around which the entire plot cascades.

When none other than Peter Dinklage shows up, as an unsavory character named Roman who is intent on springing Jennifer from her nursing home jail, things turn hilariously dangerous as Marla and Fran quickly discover exactly who they’re dealing with. But do they relinquish their elaborate con and admit defeat? It’s clear you haven’t met Marla Grayson.

Parting Shot

Written and directed by J Blakeson, I Care A Lot takes a loaded subject – elder care abuse – and gives it a blackly comic treatment, complete with a tongue-in-cheek thriller format that delights as much as it chills the blood. When the tables are turned on Marla and Fran, and the stakes get deadly, it might even feel OK to root for their survival until you remind yourself of their cruel laundry list of offenses against truly helpless victims. But because Blakeson wisely chose to keep these other assaults off-screen and simply understood in the narrative, we can shift back and forth between a righteous celebration of any and all punishments coming Marla’s way, and a sneaky sympathy that creeps in when we fear she’s about to be force-fed her ‘just desserts’.

Like much of the best plots, the story ends where it began. But what a ride it is along the way.

I Care A Lot is presently streaming on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer

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