Have you ever watched an extremely well made and acted film that left you wanting to take a shower afterwards? I do not recommend the experience. When viewing such a conundrum, you keep watching because your eyes are treated to some interesting visuals, and the performances draw you in where you believe in what is going on from scene-to-scene. They are not your garden variety trash movies that are provocative simply for the sake of titillation. American culture is drowning in the marketing fuel that has been injected into the brains of anyone flogging a product, from motion pictures to baby wipes, flooding images with the notion that sex sells. Or violence. People want to see explosions, gun fights, and punching, or so they keep telling us. I Care a Lot (2020) contains none of these more sordid, low hanging fruit features, but it exceeds them in disgustingness.
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) lays it out up front in I Care a Lot: she wants to get rich and she does not care how she achieves wealth. Her racket is a guardianship company, a business dedicated to taking over legal custody of elderly people when they are judged by the court to be no longer fit to take care of themselves. This sounds innocuous enough until her opening narration explains how it is done. First, she has a doctor who talks about her patients mental and physical states, which is the first broken law. Once she has the information, it is brought before a well-meaning but easily duped judge, Judge Lomax (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who then issues an order to have the selected patient be put into Marla’s guardianship. Marla then contacts a local retirement home, whose manager, Sam Rice (Damian Young), is in on the process. He makes sure the patient has a room, but is not able to make contact outside of the facility. Once safely behind bars, er, I mean, in the home, Marla is then free to sell off the patient’s property in order to pay for the care, while also reaping a hefty profit for herself. This last part is key because the stipulations of the court are such that they are not allowed to see their loved ones. This is driven home by an enraged Mr. Feldstrom (Macon Blair), who is physically barred from seeing his mother and loses his court proceedings to do so. Afterwards, he calls out Marla for what she is doing: preying on the elderly. One day, her assistant Fran (Eiza González), tells Marla that one of the doctors they work with, Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), has a new, golden opportunity. One of her patients, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), has been having a few medical problems. She is also single, has no immediate family or relatives to speak of, and is extremely well off. Marla and Fran move quickly, getting Judge Lomax to sign the order to have Jennifer put in Marla’s guardianship. Marla then appears at Jennifer’s door, and a confused older woman is yet another victim of a predator. Everything is going swimmingly until a mysterious person in a taxi pulls up to Jennifer’s former home looking for who he thought was the owner. This turns out to be Alexi Ignatyev (Nicholas Logan), an associate of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a Russian crime boss. Roman smuggles drugs into the United States using essentially slave women, but more importantly to the plot, he is Jennifer’s son. Regardless, Marla is undaunted in the face of Roman’s threats, particularly because she has the law on her side. She initially refuses his offer of a couple hundred thousand dollars to settle the matter, and she is also emboldened to do so when she finds several loose diamonds in Jennifer’s safety deposit box. Still, Roman is not one with which to trifle. After failing with bribery and attempting to physically break Jennifer out of the home, he resorts to kidnapping Marla. When she steadfastly refuses to cooperate, Roman orders her to be killed, but “organically.” Apparently, this means strapping her unconscious body into her car, putting a bottle of liquor in her lap, and forcing the accelerator down. Unfortunately for Roman, Marla survives the resulting plummet off a cliff and into a retention lake. It is then Marla’s turn to react in kind. With Fran’s help, she drugs Roman and leaves him naked in the middle of a running path in the woods. When such things happen, since they cannot identify him, he is tagged as a John Doe and put into her guardianship. Now she holds all the power, including having Jennifer put into a psychiatric ward and making it even more difficult for Roman to retrieve his mother. Roman is angry, obviously, but also impressed. Hence, instead of once more ordering Marla’s death, he decides to back her financially. She turns her guardianship business into a multi-billion dollar, nationwide corporation, with her at the top. Remember poor Mr. Feldstrom? The final scene is him tracking Marla down and murdering her in broad daylight, overwhelmed with the grief of not being able to see his mother before she died.
Holy crap is I Care a Lot awful. As I said at the outset, it is not bad because of how it is made. It is the content that is distasteful. While watching it, about halfway through it the old man I live with remarked that he was unsure for whom he should be rooting. I came to that conclusion after the first fifteen minutes. For me to completely enjoy a film, I need a character with which I can connect. For all the people in it, I could care less (pun intended). At one point, I thought it might be Jennifer. After all, she is clearly the victim, or at least the one on which the film focuses. But then it turns out that her son is a brutal Russian mafioso, and she is perfectly fine with this fact to boot. At the same time, as horrid of a person is Marla, I did not want to see her die at the end. She is clearly the main character here, and I kept hoping (against hope, as it turns out) that she might come to her senses and see how clearly wrong are her actions. It is one thing to have a villain like Roman, and Dinklage plays the part well. But these are all villains. It fits with something that Marla says near the beginning in her narration, how there are only two kinds of people in the world: people who are taking, and those being taken. The people in her guardianship are the ones getting taken, but they are basically a voiceless mass of people for whom I feel sorry, but never truly get to see. I do not lump Jennifer in with them because she turns out to be pretty bad herself, and she gets to go free in the end.
I Care a Lot’s title is misleading, and that, I am sure, is done on purpose. Marla does care a lot, about herself and getting rich, not about the people she victimizes. This film was brought to my attention by a longtime friend by describing as one that examines elderly care. I cannot say I agree with that description. To be sure, how we treat those advanced in age is a real issue. During the height of the COVID restrictions, for example, my ex-girlfriend’s family were prevented from seeing their maternal grandfather because he is in a retirement home and the residents were forced to stay in it for the duration. The rest of us could go for a walk or a drive, but not our loved ones in homes. Of course, that was for their own protection, and the only reason I bring that up as an example is because that is the same excuse given to Mr. Feldstrom when he tries to see his mother. They both point to problems with how we treat old people. We tend to look at them as not being worthy of life anymore, which is a stance with which I am thankful the Catholic Church does not agree. Life is sacred, from birth to natural death. Sacredness includes dignity, and the wishes of the elderly should be taken into consideration. The film presupposes that those with which Marla deals are not able to rightly make those wishes known. That can be true in some cases in real life, but does that mean they should be locked away in a room somewhere?
I do not recommend I Care a Lot, no matter its quality. Aside from the fact that the bad guys basically win, there are some parts I do not quite understand. I do not know what to make of Marla and Fran’s relationship. They seem to care about each other, but for little else other than wealth. There are moments when you think Fran might be getting tired of the scams they pull, but no. She enthusiastically drives Marla to kidnap Roman at the end. You might say that, well, at least Marla dies. I sympathize with Mr. Feldstrom, but I do not condone him stooping to murder. In sum, there is nothing to enjoy in this film.