End of life care is never easy. Difficult decisions must be made, and oftentimes feelings are hurt. Things always get more complicated when an evil con artist is trying to swindle Grammy out of her last penny. Things get even more complicated when Grammy happens to be a part of the Russian mafia.
J Blakeson’s “I Care a Lot” does not lack imagination, that’s for sure. From innocent old ladies to menacing mobsters, the film is not afraid to go big – but that ambition results in a scatterbrained plot and an eclectic tone that keeps the film from ever deciding what it wants to be.
Despite a wickedly enjoyable performance from Rosamund Pike as the conniving lead, “I Care a Lot” tries to serve up more movie than this Netflix Original can handle.
Marla Grayson (Pike) knows what she wants in life, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get it – even if that means scamming the elderly and bleeding them dry. For years Marla and her partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) have finagled their way into becoming the legal guardians for elderly folks in declining health, and once the paperwork is signed, the two dump their ward in an assisted living facility and liquidate all of their newfound assets. It’s a truly despicable practice that Marla finds all too satisfying, ripping these people away from their families in order to make a quick chunk of change. But Marla’s operation extends far beyond her and Fran – she’s got doctors, lawyers and caretakers in on the plot, too.
But when one target isn’t who she claims to be, things get messy. Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) was supposed to be a “cherry” – no family, no friends, no one to care if her and her money disappeared. After gaining custody and dumping her at a facility, though, Marla and Fran quickly learn that’s far from the truth.
It turns out Jennifer isn’t real at all – a stolen identity meant to disguise the woman’s longstanding ties to the Russian mafia. But when her mobster son, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) comes to town and finds his mother has essentially been kidnapped, he and his cronies will stop at nothing to get her back.
The first and most important thing to know about “I Care a Lot,” moreso than any wild plot lines, is the fact that Pike is having a ton of fun here. After a few years playing real-life figures, Pike is finally channeling her charmingly rotten “Gone Girl” alter ego once more. Marla is as cutthroat as she is charismatic, and we all know from her turn as Amy Dunne in 2014, this is where Pike truly shines. While this character – and performance – may not be able to match up pound for pound with that of “Gone Girl,” it resides in the same universe, and simply watching Pike live in the same mindset again is thrilling.
However, that performance alone is not enough to rescue “I Care a Lot” from its overeager plot. What begins as a dark comedy and a satirical indictment of the capitalistic mindset surrounding end of life care quickly unravels as it tries to be a little bit of everything. For nearly the first hour, watching Pike operate in this shady profession is sublime, and the film would have been better off it had remained in that world, but once an action-packed shootout breaks out at a nursing home, all common sense goes out the window, and any consistent tone goes with it.
But the exponentially accelerating ridiculousness of the plot isn’t the only confusing part of “I Care a Lot.” Blakeson and Co. never seem to make up their mind on whether or not viewers should be rooting for Marla. Her charm is undeniable, but the idea of pulling for anyone who scams the elderly like she does is nauseating. Still, when positioned against the Russian mafia, I guess you pick the lesser of two evils? There’s nothing wrong with having a movie full of villains with no one to side with, but that’s not what Blakeson does here. Instead, the on-and-off-again humanization of Marla, mainly through her romance with Fran, simply adds to the confusion.
Beyond Pike, no one else comes close to impressing – and that’s quite the disappointment when a four-time Emmy winner is in the cast. Dinklage’s dramatic chops are wasted in the role of the mobster Roman, a stereotypical tough guy crime boss. Rather than channeling a “Game of Thrones”-level of acting, Dinklage and his character’s temper feel more in like with “Elf.” No disrespect to “Elf,” but something a little more serious and intimidating could have worked wonders here.
When “I Care a Lot” finally comes to an end – after an overlong 118 minutes – it struggles to stick the landing. In fact, it seems like the film tries at least three times to wrap things up, but instead Blakeson couldn’t decide which ending he liked best, so why not use all of them?
As magnetic as Pike may be in such a sinister role, her pure charm and presence can’t carry “I Care a Lot” on its own. With a tighter script and someone to help bring this story back down to earth, the film could have had potential, but ultimately its ambition is its downfall.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.