While male characters have long been afforded complexity onscreen through the likes of Michael Corleone or Charles Foster Kane, female characters are relegated to the sidelines as love interests, mothers, or friends—one-dimensional roles that serve to prop up men’s character development. J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot flips the script with a ferocious female anti-hero with no line she wouldn’t cross to claw her way to the top.
Equal parts slick girl boss anthem and a gritty portrait of the American dream, I Care A Lot is a lawful-evil story of hustling through the rigid loopholes of the legal system with no regard for compassion. Armed to the teeth and yet lacking some bite, I Care A Lot delicately teeters between these two ideas, but the balancing act ultimately self-destructs in its refusal to take a stand.
Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson wreaks havoc as the enterprising state-appointed guardian exploiting the elderly for personal profit. With her sleek bob cut, vape pen, and icy one-liners, Pike breathes life into the character with gusto, adding much-needed zest to an otherwise stale story. Viewers may be quick to draw the parallels between Marla and Pike’s other bob-cut-sporting blonde villainess Amy Dunne in 2015’s Gone Girl, and while in some ways, I Care A Lot does feel like the rightful follow-up to Pike’s David Fincher-helmed career-high, beyond her sharp performance, the film pales in comparison.
Undeniably one of the film’s highlights is Pike’s compelling chemistry with Eiza González’s Fran. Their partnership is unmarred by the ruthlessness and greed that drives the story, and the film’s refreshing approach on queer romance is a much welcome one, lending toward a sweet intimacy that almost feels misplaced in a high-stakes thriller.
In an interesting contrast to Marla’s poisonous femininity is Peter Dinklage’s Roman Lunyov as the story’s main antagonist—if you can even have an antagonist in a story chock-full of morally-grey characters at best and downright despicable at worst—who is curiously bereft of the typical macho aggression attributed to male adversaries. One of the movie’s more interesting—yet underdeveloped—takes is defining Roman first and foremost by his love for his mother. Dinklage, however, is sadly underutilized in his role and conveniently squared away by the end. Similarly, the film could have used more of Chris Messina as he chews the scenery in the small-yet-delectable role of competitive lawyer and cool-guy Dean Erickson with the sleek suits to rival Marla’s.
Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) stands out among the circus of immoral characters as the sole sympathetic symbol of Marla’s collateral damage, vacillating from mark to victim to bait throughout the film. While this became one of the grounding and human perspectives in the story, they missed the opportunity to give her agency.
Predator and prey
As the film seems to hit its stride as a playful white feminist fantasy, it also falls short of a sharper critique of its hollow girl power message. Not only does the film fail to sufficiently delve into the systemic exploitation that allows Marla to amass wealth and power, it also excuses her actions by putting the blame on humankind’s supposed innate evil. Admittedly, Marla does reap the inevitable consequences of playing with fire, but the film’s swerve toward a sloppy and unearned ending serves nothing but a cheap take on shock value.
The movie had the potential to offer moral quandaries but widely missed the mark in framing Roman and Marla as equally reprehensible by-products of a rotten exploitative culture that only benefits the few. Female-led films like Hustlers have managed to be fun, complex, and empowering, all while being deliberate in their sociopolitical musings too, so to see the movie flounder in this is nothing short of disappointing. Beyond the glossy girl boss veneer, there’s not much about I Care A Lot that will make us…care a lot.