Rosamund Pike seems to be sculpting a career that looks modeled after a certain Bette Davis, and I’ll tell you why. While Davis enjoyed a stellar career during her peak period, she managed to check every box in the book. She could just do no wrong, even when the movie itself did less than good or didn’t live up to certain expectations. And when she played a bitch, boy was she good.
Pike is definitely not Davis, but you get where I’m headed to. Before Gone Girl, the movie that basically brought her out of the shadows, Pike was in all sorts of movies ranging from action-adventure films, bland comedies, or little-seen dramas that didn’t do much to advance her career whether she played the lead or a supporting part. Gone Girl, on the other hand, reinvented her in one masterstroke. It was as though the Pike we had seen — soft voiced, usually non-threatening, Jane to Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth in 2006’s Pride and Prejudice — had suddenly revealed vicious pit-bull teeth… and a lethal relentless bite.
That same bite shows up in J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot, a black comedy that tells the story of Marla Grayson. By itself, the name conjures images of an unassuming frump who by day performs the role of a social worker, and by night, continues to do so, undecorated. Under the polished persona of Pike — a smartly dressed woman with reed-straight hair cut in a sleek, geometric bob — Grayson is, to society, the very essence of elegance in the service of selflessness as a legal guardian for elders too weak, or too mentally incompetent to fend for themselves.
Pity you would find yourself under Marla’s supervision. Marla is, from the word go, a shark, and she would take that as a weak compliment if you told her so. She shamelessly preys on the finances of the elderly, placing them under her care to cash in on their bank accounts and live a life of luxury. Into her line of exploitation through an associate comes Jennifer Paterson (Dianne Wiest). Paterson, a wealthy retiree, is practically bamboozled into Marla’s care, placed under lock and key in a facility that Marla presides over under an iron fist.
What Marla and her girlfriend and partner-in-crime Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) ignore is that Jennifer has some pretty heavy connections… and they’re not especially happy to know Jennifer’s home has been repossessed and her whereabouts are nowhere to be found. When a man named Roman (Peter Dinklage) demands that Marla release Jennifer, she refuses. The money that Jennifer can deliver is too much for Marla to refuse it.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I have to say that I Care a Lot is ultimately too silly to be taken seriously. However, it is also solid entertainment that manages even through its wild plot twists to point a finger at an actual, terrifying reality in which corrupt legal guardians have all but destroyed a system for their own financial gain. What seemed to be poised to be one kind of film, in which Marla’s actions would yield a progressive retaliation from Roman, turns into something else, and it’s entirely unexpected.
It doesn’t quite work all in the end, but that’s because Pike’s character is so completely amoral and so unyielding that she becomes an unknowable wall. At first, her dogged refusal to back down when her circle starts to close seems defiant, and strangely fascinating. It’s when she gets into far deeper than she ever planned that credibility starts to strain a bit. Dinklage doesn’t exactly fare better — his part is rather one-note, and too much of Dinklage renders the movie a bit flat. His character and Pike’s are basically the same despite coming from entirely different backgrounds, so it is no surprise when one unyielding force meets unyielding force, leaving it all to an act of poetic justice to carry out its final sentence.
But, as I have said before, this is a silly movie that uses a serious matter to tell a plot full of pulp and retro-80s action. Watch I Care a Lot, and feel both outraged and repulsed by its connection to actual corrupt legal guardians, but think nothing of it once the credits have rolled.