Released: 19th February
Seen: 21st February
There is no greater evil, at least in my mind than those who take advantage of the elderly and infirm. The top of that list of evil people are known as professional guardians, not all of them (I’m sure some of them are perfectly good people) but we’re talking about the kind of professional guardians who take on a ward who is elderly and is needing help, pay themselves an obscene wage, puts that ward in an aged care home and slowly bleed them dry. To see how evil some of these guardians can be, I’d suggest watching this segment by John Oliver on them. They are so cruel and evil that it almost feels like an inevitable source for a film. I won’t lie, when I saw that I Care A Lot was about a woman who puts elderly people with dementia in a home and drains them of their money I was worried as hell about how it was going to handle this heavy topic. I’m glad to say it’s damn near perfect.
I Care A Lot focusses on Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) who is one of the most unscrupulous people you will ever come across. She actively hunts out elderly people who are starting to decline and, using a web of doctors and care home managers, makes the elderly person appear to need guardianship and then drains their banks accounts dry. This is a scheme that’s been working out pretty well for her until the day she pulls this trick on Jennifer Peterson (Diane Wiest). Jennifer Peterson might be old, but she has got someone who cares for her… namely a mafia man named Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) who will stop at nothing to get Jennifer out of the aged care home she’s been placed in.
From the moment I Care A Lot starts the movie is very clear about one thing, you are not in any way meant to like Marla. They never pull out the “Oh but she needs the money for her cancer-ridden puppy” card or somehow make her actions justified, she’s a cruel heartless vile human being who does this because it makes her rich and that’s the only thing that matters to her. It’s a ballsy move to make your protagonist the most unlikable human being put to film in recent years but this film does it and while you will never like her, Rosamund makes her compelling to watch. You don’t want her to get away with what she’s doing, in fact, you might spend a long time wondering when sweet justice will finally come calling, but she’s so deliciously evil that you want to know how far she’s going to take this.
Indeed, I Care A Lot seems to be pushing how far it can take this concept and still be watchable and it manages to just barely make it up to the line. They never portray what’s being done to Jennifer as funny, there’s actually a brilliant scene where they intercut Marla selling everything from Jennifer’s life with shots of Jennifer’s freedoms slowly being taken away and her will to fight being worn down, a brutal reminder of just how badly this system can be abused. Hell, they don’t let anyone off the hook. The doctors and home care owner are horribly corrupt, the judge is just incompetent and easily manipulated, they make their case well heard and it resonates.
Part of why I Care A Lot resonates is a fantastic script that makes everything work. Every single reveal about Jennifer’s life and what Marla has gotten herself into is perfect, the dialogue is darkly hilarious (Diane Wiest probably gets the best and most vulgar line in the movie) and every character is a fully realised being just from the dialogue alone. It also helps that the script is being sold by some of the best actors working today, I never knew how intimidating eating a doughnut could be until Peter Dinklage did it and demonstrated the power of that image.
The high point of the film is the entire second half, which is just non-stop intensity that somehow manages to keep topping itself. They earn their two-hour runtime and it never feels like there’s any filler going on here, it’s got such incredible energy that makes everything work far better than it realistically should. I say this as someone who watched this film on the day I went to visit a family member in a nursing home, this should be the actual worst time for me to see a film about elder abuse within that environment and yet this film is so captivating and well thought out that I was loving every second.
I Care A Lot is the kind of film that needs everything to go just right for it to work, and somehow exceeds that expectation. It’s funny, thrilling, emotional and dark in ways you wouldn’t expect but you wind up appreciating it by the time the credits roll. With some of the best performances by some of the best actors we have, I Care A Lot is the kind of film that will get you mad but will make you enjoy every minute of it. I will not be shocked to see this on end of the year lists, it’s truly something special.