In this week’s Critic’s Chair review, Guy Somerset watches I Care a Lot on Amazon Prime and wonders if kindness has its limits
Do you think Jacinda Ardern has been watching I Care a Lot? It would explain a lot.
As Newsroom political editor Jo Moir wrote earlier this week, after a year of telling New Zealanders to be kind to each other in response to the COVID crisis Ardern has expanded her definition of kindness to include “[giving] friends, family and colleagues a bollocking if they’re breaking the rules”.
Ardern is yet to go full Marla Grayson on us, yet to have us fighting like ferrets in a bag, but is this her testing the waters?
In writer-director J Blakeson’s dark, dark, dark comedy-noir thriller, Grayson, played to perfection by British actress Rosamund Pike, is a Massachusetts grifter taking her elderly marks for everything they’ve got without even a crumb of conscience to give her pause.
Grayson’s hustle is to bribe a corrupt doctor to declare elderly victims unfit to look after themselves and then persuade a patsy family court judge to make them wards of the state and her their professional guardian. She can then have them locked up in a friendly (to her) care home and bleed them dry – figuratively speaking, that is, although she’s not beyond doing it literally either.
You’ve got to admire the piquancy, not to say perversity, of a film that casts the US care home system in such a light at a time when its patients have suffered more than most from Covid-19.
It won’t have been written with that in mind, of course, but through the good fortune of timing it is able to provide a welcome safety valve for anyone looking for a couple of hours of respite from all the pressure to be responsible and kind that the past year has thrust upon us.
Sometimes you just want – need – to be wicked, if only in what you watch and laugh at.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man: welcome indeed, Mr Blakeson.
And if Ardern has been watching, who could blame her if some of the film has started to rub off on her.
There’s a way for her to go yet, though.
“With a full understanding of human fallibility, it is not appropriate and it is not OK for members of the team of five million to let the rest of us down.”
It’s a start, but Grayson, given a podium, or at least a voiceover at the beginning of the film, goes for the jugular.
“Look at you sitting there. You think you’re good people. You’re not good people. Trust me. There’s no such thing as good people. There are two types of people in this world. The people who take and those getting took. Prey and predator. Lions and lambs. My name is Marla Grayson and I’m not a lamb. I’m a fucking lioness.”
Try that at your next one o’clock briefing, Jacinda.
I am woman, hear me roar.
And we do hear Grayson roar too, when one setback too many leads her to lose it completely and Pike to give it her all.
With her immaculate blonde bob, Grayson is slyly and silkily shamefaced with her cant in court.
“Caring, sir, is my job. My profession. This is what I do. All day every day. I care for those who are in need of protection. Protection from apathy, protection from their own pride, and quite often protection from their own children.”
Outside the court, though, she lets the mask slip and is not to be messed with, as the hapless son of one of her victims discovers when he tackles her after another unsuccessful hearing to get her guardianship overturned.
What does she mean, she’s just doing her job? “Your fucking job? Fuck you. I hope you get raped and I hope you get killed. Fucker.”
For good measure, he then spits on her. Oh dear.
Grayson doesn’t waste her time on the jugular as she tells him he’s stinging because “you got soundly beaten in there by someone with a vagina. A penis doesn’t automatically make you more scary than me. Just the opposite. You may be a man but if you ever threaten, touch or spit on me again, I will grab your dick and balls and will rip them clean off”.
A line Ardern might like to consider when tackling those social media trolls. That would shut them up.
In his screenplay, Blakeson is for the most part as ruthless as Grayson in refusing to flinch from the darkness of the path he sets her on. But when he does do so, his loss of nerve also undermines the refreshing gender politics of the film, which is disappointing.
Among those in the hustle with Grayson are her assistant and lover, Fran (Eiza González), and care home boss Sam Rice (Damian Young, looking unnervingly like a cross between Phil Dunphy from Modern Family and Rudy Giuliani minus the melting hair).
The hustle starts to unravel, however, when they target childless innocent old lady Jennifer Peterson (the great Dianne Wiest, swearing like a trooper, the C-word included), who is neither as childless nor as innocent as she seems.
Enter Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage with a Bond villain beard, a high hair bun and a penchant for French pastries and smoothies.
Dinklage is a fantastic foil for Pike, but this is her movie to own and she does so completely, right down to the smallest detail, such as using the vapour from her permanently present e-cigarette as practically a form of dialogue in its own right.
This week Pike won the Golden Globe for best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical.
Like Ardern needs any more encouraging.
I Care a Lot (Amazon Prime Video).