When I see the words “dark comedy” associated with a film, I often cringe, as I mostly see the term associated with morally bankrupt dramas or unfunny, tasteless comedies, with my main point of distinction between those two categories and true dark comedies being dark comedies are funny, with clear set ups and hilarious — if not a little dark — punchlines that make full use of their taboo subject matter. Unfortunately, the label has often been used to excuse terrible, boring and morally reprehensible content under the guise of “it’s OK, it’s just a joke,” when it’s clear that it’s not.
J Blakeson’s “I Care a Lot” is no dark comedy in the regard that it is not a comedy; it is very intentionally, by design a thriller you’re supposed to take seriously, with a morally reprehensible protagonist in con woman Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), who rightfully, in my eyes, earns the reputation as the most despicable female character in cinema of 2021 so far. Grayson runs a scam in which she bribes a doctor (Alicia Witt) to refer her wealthy elderly patients to her, with the doctor fabricating diagnoses that they cannot live on their own. The local family court then appoints Marla as their legal guardian, she moves them into an assisted living facility, and then sells all their assets for her own personal profit, stealing countless people’s savings and generational wealth.
She gets into a bit of trouble when she does this to a single old woman with no kids or relatives on paper named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who is actually the mother of a former Russian mob boss named Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage). Roman throws an expensive lawyer at Marla named Dean Ericson (Chris Messina), but in a laughable, almost unbelievable twist of the script, it turns out Ericson never collected a retainer for her, or any proof that he is Peterson’s lawyer, and he gets laughed out of court.
Ericson also tried to bribe her to the tune of around $300,000, threatening violence if she doesn’t take the deal. Marla refuses to let her go, hoping to get more from a Russian mobster she knows little about, and has nothing but the legal system protecting her from.
Not only is this move stupid, it’s arrogant, But the script rewards Marla, as Roman sends another incompetent goon named Alexi Ignatyev (Nicholas Logan) to break Peterson out of her assisted living facility, and he fails … somehow.
Yes, this highly trained Russian mobster that is apparently so valuable to Roman he helped him fake his own death is bested by the security guards at an assisted living facility — who for some reason are carrying firearms (why are they carrying firearms?) — and Marla and her girlfriend, Fran (Eiza González), who show up just as he’s about to escape.
This is one of the points in the film in which my suspension of disbelief snapped. It’s also a good way to lead into Fran.
Fran is Marla’s love interest and is in the film to supposedly keep her grounded in some sort of moral code in which everything she does is for her and Fran. But Fran is just as morally reprehensible as Marla is, she’s less competent, and she doesn’t really have much to do other than act as a bystander.
The rest of the film flies off the rails. The vehicle Alexi took had its plates traced back to Roman’s personal driver, and Marla almost single-handedly kidnaps Roman with Black Ops skills better than Roman’s seasoned, trained killers for seemingly no reason.
Again, not buying it.
Roman also captures Marla and Fran in the film, but fails to kill either of them — a surprisingly amateur job for a professional killer. In fact, there are several points in which the movie should have been over, with Marla and Fran easily killed off by Roman, but the script does leaps and somersaults to make the villains mess up long enough for them to survive and get the upper hand.
Midway through, the film tries to frame Marla as some resilient protagonist we should root for, but her crimes against the elderly and her lack of empathy are just so disgusting, it’s a lost cause. She’s not a character you can root for, with her survival after her encounter with Roman completely reliant off of dumb luck and his own incompetence, which makes almost all of her victories feel unearned, much in the same way her wealth was.
This is all frustrating because this film has a great concept, it’s shot very well and I love the director’s use of color and frame composition, and it has some really good uses of sound. Its cast is also excellent when the script lets them. But the script really lets the whole production down, as it breaks our suspension of disbelief too many times, overly relies on incompetence in its villains and coincidence rather than the strength and ingenuity of its “heroes”, and props up a morally reprehensible protagonist with almost no moral code or sense of honor with no reason for doing so.
I think there could’ve been a great film in here, but what we got is a little too half baked.
“I Care a Lot” gets a 6/10