“Well to make it in this country, you need to be brave. And stupid, and ruthless, and focused, because playing fair, being scared, that gets you nowhere. That gets you beat.”
She’s one of the most striking characters you’ve seen in a long time. When you first see her–and you won’t be able to take your eyes off her–she seems to be cutting a path with her body and her hair as she walks across the screen. Her tresses (or are they blades?) are bobbed in very sharp symmetrical lines. Her clothing is stylish and well put together, accentuating her physique. And she prefers very bold empowering colors. A yellow business suit or a bright red dress. Everything about her tells you that she’s very determined, and not to get in her path for when crossed she gets stronger and fearless. “I’m not a lamb, I am a freaking lioness,” she roars. The character is Marla Grayson, and the film is the delectable “I Care a Lot” (2021). Marla is a cross between Anna Wintour and a Hitchcock icy blond, and she’s up to no good, stepping over many lines. And you love it, for you relish seeing her go out and take what she firmly believes belongs to her. She’s played with brilliant self-assurance and charisma by the force of nature that is Rosamund Pike who was Oscar nominated for David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014). She’s outdone herself.
“Look at you sitting there, thinking you’re good people,” says Marla. “There are no good people.” She has built quite a business for herself. She is a professional predator who has gamed the system to become court-appointed guardian for dozens of powerless retirees. She puts them away in retirement homes, keeps them medicated and strips them of their assets. She shows up at the door of unsuspecting senior citizens holding a piece of paper that gives her total legal power over them. She’s an ambitious entrepreneur (“I’ve been poor and it doesn’t agree with me”) and one of the many shocking things is that technically she stays within the law to get what she wants. She manipulates unmindful judges and with the help of a corrupt doctor she zeroes in on the perfect candidates without relatives and plenty of retirement assets, “cherries.”
Written and directed by J Blakeson, “I Care a Lot” is a fun, nasty and totally unpredictable crime thriller. Marla and her business partner Fran, who is also her lover, have a new “cherry” in sight who on paper fits the bill. Jennifer Peterson (a fantastic Dianne Weist) is not the sweet old lady she appears to be. Did she just put Marla in a headlock? She is the mother to a gangster named Roman who works for the Russian mob. Instead of cutting her losses and walking away from this mark, Marla finds herself playing a deadly game with a very dangerous adversary. Instead of cowering, she’s emboldened by the challenge. The fact that Roman is played with astuteness by Peter Dinklage makes this match even more enticing
I explain to my students why we root for characters like Marla that have a questionable moral compass. Think of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” and almost every protagonist of a Scorsese gangster movie. We root for goal oriented people. We have been programmed to admire people who are ambitious. Although some of the choices Marla makes will make some feel perturbed, we’re caught in her drive, power and boldness.
Besides having written a very clever script, Blakeson has flair to spare. He has a terrific handle on the tonal shifts of the narrative with plenty of humor and suspense. I’d mentioned Marla reminding me of a Hitchcock heroine. Blakeson keeps it all humming along with the same swiftness that the master of suspense showed in thrillers like “North by Northwest.” For all the fun and thrills, Blakeson has plenty to say between the lines, about the ruthless pursuit of the American dream as well as elder care and corrupt business practices. Visually, he has a penchant for strong compositions and production design. I love the way that the environment he surrounds his characters with tells us so much about them, like Marla’s ‘everything in its place’ office. Colors are used boldly and incisively.
This is a very entertaining endeavor, and it has a career high performance by Ms. Pike. This last Sunday she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for the role.
Ms. Peterson: “You’re a robber.”
Marla: “No, I’m your guardian.”
Available to stream on Netflix
Written and Directed by J Blakeson
Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina and Dianne Wiest
Writer and Director J Blakeson on “I Care a Lot” and the Role of Marla
“One thing we spoke about while we were making the film, I spoke to Rosamund about, you sort of get a sense of it, but it didn’t really make the final film, which is if you met Marla in real life, at say a party or something, you’d just think, ‘Well, she’s very attractive, very well put together, well dressed. She seems to have a great, caring relationship with her girlfriend. She’s got great taste. Her office is beautiful and she’s kind of smart. She seems [like] a really great person.’ And then you would ask her, ‘What do you do for a living?’ She goes, ‘Well, you know, I take care of elderly people.’ And you think, ‘This lady’s great! She’s a saint!’ But, you know, part of that thing of people looking to the world as if they’re good people who do good things, but actually there’s lots of bad things underneath the hood I think is something very true of that world and true of lots of different people in positions of authority who get away with a lot because people just trust them because, ‘Oh, they’re the guy that we know!’ So there’s that element that didn’t quite make it into the film, but I think is very true.”
…“Marla’s character and these characters in real life sort of struck me as being a little bit like gangsters. They come in and they steal something under false pretenses and then they sort of strip it for parts and then pump all the money out of it they can. Where they’ve got assets, they use those assets and overcharge and overcharge and overcharge, and when they run out of those assets and they get put on to government money, they then just store them in the worst care home. They run through their money as fast as possible, store them in the worst care home and just forget about them. Just park them and then move on to the next one, and that felt almost like a gangster’s operation. And so the idea of taking somebody who’s basically a legal gangster – because there’s not really anything she’s doing that’s totally against the law. She’s overcharging people, but she’s sort of exposing loopholes in the law – running up against somebody who is a gangster and is on the other side of the law felt quite interesting. He has violence and ruthlessness and criminality on his side where she’s on the right side of the law; how different are they? So having the sort of yin and yang of amorality pitted against each other and putting them in a death match of who’s gonna give up first seemed like a bit of a delicious prospect.” (collider.com)
Rosamund Pike on “I Care a Lot”
“It’s a dark comedy about the American dream, and a satire on the system of care in America,” Pike explains from her current base in Prague, where she has spent the past year with her family, after initially being stuck there while filming a TV series during last spring’s lockdown. “Not all care is bad, but we do see the very unsavory side of elderly care being big business. I’m sure most care homes are run very responsibly, but I’m also sure there are people being cut in left, right, and center in others, money being siphoned off all over the place. In doing this film I didn’t take a deep dive into the politics of it; I needed to let Marla tell a story. It’s a fiction, but as we know, it’s based on something that can happen.”…the sources of inspiration for Marla’s character were ones Pike found curiously entertaining, including Nicole Kidman’s murderously ambitious weather girl in To Die For, Gus Van Sant’s criminally overlooked 1995 satire of celebrity culture, and the disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, with all of her preening self-obsession and careful image building.
“I was curious about Elizabeth Holmes as a study in the art of conviction—what she does to deploy something that people unilaterally found totally convincing,” Pike explains. “In America in particular, people are so beguiled by wealth. Wealth can cover for an awful lot of evil and wrongdoing. If you have a fortune, that’s enough in and of itself. You hear that someone’s received a $2 billion investment and that’s a good thing, that must be a good thing because they got that investment. If the end of our movie hadn’t been what it was, in a couple of years Marla would’ve been on the cover of Forbes, she would’ve been bequeathing a certain portion to charity, and all would be squeaky clean again.” (vogue.com/)
Rosamund Pike on Playing the Role of Marla
“J [had the idea] after seeing an article [about wards being exploited by guardians] and thinking: ‘This should be a film, but if I tell the story from the victim’s point of view, it’ll be unbearably awful. What if I tell it from the perpetrator’s point of view?’ I read [his] script and told him, ‘This is the most exciting female character I’ve read in years.’ He replied, ‘I’ve always liked your work. Let’s have dinner.’ Five or six months after that, I was offered the film. It makes you think you’re probably not his first choice [laughs], but I’ve never been scared of being second or third choice. In this business, you can’t have any pride about stuff like that. You have to seize the opportunities.”…“I didn’t understand her or what was motivating her and that’s what I found so riveting. My exploration of the character was about digging into [her until] I could own her appetites — her unabashed hunger for wealth, power and all the things I don’t care about. Marla thinks: ‘I’ve been screwed and so now I’m going to play dirty.’ The thing is, the system is set up for people to play dirty. J wrote a satire about the American dream and the welfare, legal and healthcare systems.” (vogue.co.uk)
Rosamund Pike on the Look of Marla
“I wanted the bob to be razor-sharp. The hairstylist I worked with also cut Amy’s [Pike’s character in 2014’s Gone Girl] bob. Then, as soon as I put on that teal suit she wears in the scene with the lawyer, we knew we’d found her. J said, ‘I want to see those suits in every colour and cut.’ She wears a yellow suit when you see her as the lioness approaching her prey [Jennifer] and then J wanted another yellow suit in the latter part of the film when Marla becomes the prey. Her look is part of her artifice. We wanted to take time [to look at everything] and you don’t really have that time on a small-budget movie. We were racing to change her nails to go with her outfits because I knew Marla would do it. People said, ‘Is this necessary?’ and I said, ‘It might pay off in the end.’” (vogue.co.uk)
Eiza González on Playing the Role of Fran
“I read the script and reading those first five pages of that opening monologue were groundbreaking,” González tells Observer with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I need to be part of this.’ Marla was just such a forceful character and everyone that was connected to her was something that I felt needed to be [seen] on-screen…“I loved that Fran was kind of the foil to Marla, and it allowed [people] to see a very different side of me as an actress. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to play more grounded roles like this—I don’t know why sometimes—but it was exciting to go for it. I was really proud that I was able to nab it because I learned so much on this film, and I think it’s a great display and a very different role to what everyone has seen me do before.”
…I was not aware of the countless loopholes; I was aware of senior care homes and I’ve always thought that they’re really weird. (Laughs.) It was a really odd thing. As you said, I grew up with this idea that you would take care of your parents and grandparents for the rest of your life. Everything of this story was just new to me, and obviously doing a deeper dive, I was even more shocked by what I discovered. I was really, very disturbed by it. I’ve always known that there are ways to break the system because, listen, I grew up in Mexico City. Mexico can sometimes [have] a lot of political loopholes that happen consistently. But in a first-world country, sometimes, it seems like it would be harder to happen, like in America, right? And yet, more than the loopholes, what really stuck with me was how systematically it’s set up for us to fail and not to succeed. If you’re not born with wealth, then your possibilities are never going to be set up to have your own business on that level and on that scale, so what would people do to get that? I thought it was a perfect display of what we are capable, as humans, of doing.” (observer.com)
About Director and Writer J Blakeson
J Blakeson made quite the impression when his feature directorial debut, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” screened at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival…In 2016, Blakeson was scooped up to helm a highly anticipated young adult book adaptation for Sony, “The 5th Wave” starring Chloe Grace Moretz. (collider.com) His latest feature film is I CARE A LOT – a dark satirical thriller. The film premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. J wrote and directed the film, which stars Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest, Eiza Gonzáles and Chris Messina. (davidhigham.co.uk)