“I Care a Lot” – “Caring is my job. It’s my profession.” – Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike)
Marla Grayson loves her job. She’s a caregiver. Well, that’s not correct. She’s a legal guardian, one for the elderly, and she has dozens of clients, those who need a robust, proficient personality to help make decisions for them, for both day-to-day happenings and grand issues.
Wow, Marla sounds like a godsend, and perhaps she’s doing the Lord’s work, a real Mother Teresa. Not so fast. We soon discover that she carries all the selfless, kind altruism of Alec Baldwin’s Blake from “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992). You know, the executive who announced a sales contest by saying, “As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize, a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
Well, the professional in this movie – with an endless supply of impeccably-tailored power suits and skirts for every bright color of a rainbow – always searches for her next pot of gold in the form of siphoning cash and possessions from her unsuspectingly clients, who may or may not be mentally capable of making decisions for themselves.
If one hopes that Marla sports a soft spot for someone within her vulnerable target market, please shoot that notion down.
It’s a zero-sum game out there in Brydon County, as she proclaims that human beings fall into only two categories: “The people who take and those getting taken.”
As writer/director J Blakeson’s movie suggests – accompanied by Marc Canham’s playful synthesizer score that frequently stirs warm memories of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” (1987) – Marla does care a lot! About herself. Her scheme – which she’s smoothly and slickly carried on for years – has finally run into a stumbling block, a troubling one, when she discovers and recruits a new mark, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). Marla places this mild-mannered, comfortable, and competent 70-something under massive restrictions at Berkshire Oaks, a nursing home with all sorts of creature comforts but no real freedoms. Think of the mental institution in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) with larger bedrooms and finer linens.
Actually, Pike – in this film – resembles Sarah Paulson and her turn in “Ratched” (2020), a Netflix “Cuckoo’s Nest” prequel series that captures the early-life and deadly times of Nurse Ratched. Marla is a cool, unscrupulous opportunist who games the system. She doesn’t forcibly dole out abusive medication, but she has no shame in giving the orders to those who will. Look, if you see Ms. Grayson fiercely marching your way – and you’re over the age of 65 with a pocket full of Benjamins – turn around, run for cover, and call for an Uber lickety-split.
Avoid this wolf in Stepford Wives’ clothing.
Blakeson’s film owns a similar analogy, as his script takes some head-spinning genre turns, but at its heart, it’s a wicked black comedy, a satirical take on life in 2021. Unless someone recruits 10 other henchmen to break into The Bellagio’s vault, the days of outlaws robbing banks are long gone. Nowadays, a crook can pick your pocket – with an alluring white, porcelain smile – while sitting down for coffee in a spotless, modern, minimalist office or servicing some well-placed sociable words in a court of law.
Yes, an opportune legal summons, a shifty backroom conversation, or some nifty keystrokes on a Mac have replaced a steel drill bit, a blowtorch, or explosives. Sure, this take on 21st-century crime isn’t a most recent phenomenon, but cruelty or apathy towards our fellow man may have reached new highs in 2021. Just turn to your news app of choice for hundreds of examples. Better yet, don’t.
“I Care a Lot” is a model example of intriguing storytelling, and it mercilessly dives into the aforementioned and brutal current events vibe. Pike – a thespian-chameleon who can perfectly accommodate any genre and character – is devilishly terrific here (of course), as this critic admires Marla’s ingenuity and despises her heartless game. Marla’s a villain, but then she meets her match with Peter Dinklage’s Roman Lunyov, a man with a keen interest in Jennifer Peterson’s well-being. Dinklage seems to have a blast internalizing Roman’s rage, which also sometimes explodes outside the surface. Not to expand on the Grayson-Lunyov storyline, let’s just say that both parties care a lot. If you can manage the stress for 118 minutes, you might too.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Netflix