I Care a Lot About I Care a Lot
I Care a Lot is the newest addition to the Rosamund Pike As a Blonde Sociopathic Misandrist Cinematic Universe (RPAABSMCU), in excellent company with Gone Girl, and it is superb. So superb, in fact, that Pike recently won a Golden Globe for her performance in it as Marla Grayson, a legal guardian for the elderly, who abuses her power to steal their money and their property. I Care a Lot is a complicated film, carrying layered criticism of late-stage neoliberal capitalism and the commodification of care-work, commentary on bio-essentialist feminism, and an unflinching critique of elder abuse. My main quibble, however, is if the film actually knows it’s carrying any of those things; it is occasionally derailed by implausible subplots and montages set to a grating electronic soundtrack that at times make it feel more like a commercial for criminal girl-bosses than an actual movie. Nonetheless, aside from some missteps, I Care a Lot is overall more than deserving of its award. Even if it doesn’t always manage to clinch the smaller details, the overarching story is riveting, suspenseful, and incredibly well-acted.
I Care a Lot follows the aforementioned guardian, Marla Grayson, as she works with her partner—in business and in love—Fran, portrayed by Eiza González. Pike may have been the one to win the Golden Globe, but González is no slouch, either. She plays Fran with the cool self-assurance of a jungle cat sunning itself—clearly no less dangerous when at rest, ready to strike at any moment. Together, the two run a lucrative business, siphoning away the assets of Marla’s clients with absolutely no hesitancy. Peter Dinklage as the dynamic duo’s mafioso antagonist is a villain par excellence, with all the unassuming efficiency of a misericorde hidden in a sleeve, unseen until it’s too late to dodge the killing stroke. Chris Messina as Dean Ericson, a sleazy lawyer attempting to extricate a client from Marla’s grasp, is at home in an ensemble comprising eminently terrible people, clad in a number of suits so gaudy they’re an affront to the concept of sumptuary laws. And Dianne West as Jennifer Peterson, Marla’s unfortunate and unlucky ward, plays her part with incredible pathos, one moment doddering and innocent, the next shrewd and vitriolic, and all the while, deeply sympathetic.
The technical aspects of I Care a Lot are all done with incredible skill, too, from the costumes to the mise-en-scene and the color palette. Most notable are Marla and Fran’s complementary wardrobes, grace notes that subtly illuminate their personalities. When we first see Marla, it’s from behind—a blonde bob cut with razor-sharp precision and flat-ironed into place, a sleek dress the brilliant red of an arterial spray, and the porcelain shell of her ear when her hair shifts, revealing the twinkle of a delicate pearl earring. Image is everything, and Marla’s is calculated with military precision.
In fact, Marla’s image is what her career hinges on. There’s a reason that González—a Mexican woman—is not the protagonist, and it isn’t because she lacks the acting chops. Marla’s successful deception relies on her ability to subvert societal expectations of white women. Outside of the courtroom, she wears beautifully tailored suits and sky-high heels, all in aposematic jewel tones. But when she’s jockeying for access to her wards in front of a judge—played with amusing frankness by Isiah Whitlock, Jr.—she takes pains to present herself as hyperfeminine, always clad in dresses with a careful coat of red lipstick to match. It means something—actually, it means everything—that she is a thin, white, blonde, conventionally attractive woman. “Caring, sir, is my job,” she says at the beginning of the film, in her characteristic steely contralto, and she isn’t lying; she’s playing the role that society expects her to. The judge believes her testimony about her guardianship above anyone else’s because she looks the part—a nurturing Madonna, blonde and blue-eyed, toting a vape and a smartphone, repackaged for the modern age.
Society expects women to care, and it is, of course, a job—a grueling one, at that, criminally underpaid and undervalued. Political theorist Joan Tronto describes carework as “a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible.” A broad definition, but a useful one, and one that exists within the framework of neoliberal capitalism. In a deeply stratified society, to be cared for so that you may live as well as possible, as Tronto says, has increasingly become a privilege, not a right, and one that may cost you extortionate amounts. Messina’s shark-like lawyer says with a smug grin, “If your whole enterprise isn’t the perfect example of the American dream, I don’t know what is.”
That one quote exemplifies why I Care a Lot is a feminist movie without a feminist protagonist. Marla and Fran are not role models; they are warnings. As much as you love to hate her, Marla is not a hero, or even an antihero. She’s a genuinely awful person who just so happens to be a woman, which does not make the agency she exercises in any way feminist. In fact, much of her criminality stems from the ways in which she exercises traditionally masculine traits, all in the name of getting ahead in an individualist enterprise. “To make it in this country, you have to be brave,” Marla says, staring straight into the camera with gimlet blue eyes, her blonde hair lit up like a halo. But Marla isn’t brave; she’s cruel and she’s ruthless and ultimately craven because of it. This film is a lesson that identity is no indicator of morality. Women are not inherently caring, men are not inherently bold and dangerous—just ask Messina’s character, who yelps and cowers from his boss like a child—and anyone who preys on the vulnerable probably deserves the retribution that they get.
Now, whether or not I Care a Lot is fully aware of the fact that it’s a vehicle for these themes is up for debate. It has more montages than are strictly necessary—not tastefully curated ones, either, but rather sweeping clips that make you wonder if the screen-writing team got bored and took a break on dialogue for a few chunks of the plot. And the second act is slightly out of control, asking you to suspend your disbelief far beyond what you may be prepared for. But it is also deeply captivating, imbued with a sinister undercurrent of suspense. You are left wondering who might be in cahoots with Marla—is it the judge? The doctor? Maybe even the healthcare aide in the smiley-face scrubs? That, at least, is true to life; evil rarely turns up in the places we expect to look for it. It may even come wearing a face like Rosamund Pike’s—beautiful, white-toothed, composed, and no less malicious for it.