Covid-19 has had an undeniable effect on the film industry. Movies that were filmed and produced pre-pandemic have struggled to figure out how to manage releases — whether to delay a major theatrical release or depend on streaming platforms alone. Logistics aside, these films face another barrier: The major societal changes brought on by the pandemic have altered the audience’s perception of pre-pandemic films. What was once relevant to our pre-pandemic world seems antiquated in the light of our new life, resulting in some new releases feeling almost dated. “I Care A Lot,” directed by J Blakeson, is one of these new releases.
The movie follows Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a grifter who tricks her way into becoming the state-appointed guardian of vulnerable elderly people, forcibly putting them in care homes in order to gain access to their finances. The movie’s main conflict arises when Marla attempts to pull her scam on a woman named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who turns out to have connections with the mafia. What follows is a fast-paced thriller that never quite finds its footing.
Partially to blame is the timing of the film’s release. The movie, which went into production in the summer of 2019, feels very much of that moment — from Marla’s particularly clunky vape to the shots of her in spin class. However, the largest contributor to the film’s feeling of datedness is the character of Marla herself.
Pike, who is best known for starring in “Gone Girl,” seems to be in her comfort zone in this role, delivering yet another stunning performance as a determined woman who uses feminism to justify psychopathic deeds. Beyond evoking Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl,” Marla — with her calculated appearance, quips about female empowerment, and startling blue eyes — seems to draw inspiration from Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes is the disgraced founder of Theranos, a medical tech company that made and sold a largely fictional technology that claimed to revolutionize blood work. Holmes, who had formerly appeared on the cover of Forbes and Fortune 500, was the subject of widespread media attention in the first half of 2019, inspiring both a podcast and a documentary that followed the history of her scam.
“I Care A Lot” offers interesting commentary on women like Holmes, who, as a woman in tech, largely became successful using neoliberal feminism as her platform. Under the guise of female empowerment, she gained support for her scam. Echoing Holmes, many of Marla’s lines in “I Care A Lot” could easily have come from a TEDTalk about female leadership, or a feminist quotebook. She speaks about remaining determined, refusing to let men threaten her or get in her way, and working hard to achieve her dreams — all of which is used to justify her robbing vulnerable people. The movie thus sharply demonstrates how capitalism and greed co-opt and distort feminist ideology. However, by relying heavily on cultural references that, due to the pandemic, seem as though they come from a different world, the movie ends up feeling almost archaic without being old enough to be nostalgic.
Putting aside the pandemic’s effect on the resonance of the film, “I Care A Lot” is mostly compelling. While Pike is certainly the standout, the film features strong performances across the board. It is also quite visually engaging. With its highly saturated colors and harsh lighting, the movie looks almost ad-like; the images appear simultaneously cheery and greasy, which works quite well in a film whose main M.O. is to critique the inherent falseness of capitalism. Still, the movie suffers from a major tonal problem — “I Care A Lot” is dark and suspenseful but is also quite goofy, without ever being truly funny. The result is a thriller whose comedic elements mostly serve to lessen the story’s stakes. “I Care A Lot” has great potential, but the end result just misses the mark.
—Staff Writer Mira S Alpers can be reached at email@example.com