No chocolate eclair has ever induced such fear as the donut which was consumed in Netflix’s noir comedy thriller “I Care a Lot.” The film, written and directed by Jonathan Blakeson, features its main villain menacingly taking a single bite out of the dessert before tossing it to the side in order to highlight his sinister yet ludicrous nature.
“I Care a Lot” tells the story of Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a nefarious con artist who scams court officials into giving her guardianship over elderly individuals before placing them into care facilities and selling their assets to take their wealth for herself. The tale of Marla’s exploitation in the film begins with her targeting the mysteriously independent and wealthy Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest).
Pike’s performance of the sociopathic Marla immediately stands out as the highlight of the movie, and it even earned her a Golden Globe. The low rasp of Pike’s voice paired with her chilling stares and nonchalant demeanor provides a captivating characterization of Marla as an immoral scammer to the highest degree.
Pike’s performance is not the only element of the film that allows Marla’s terrifying nature to take center stage, however. Doug Emmett’s camera often lingers on Pike in straight-on shots, practically allowing the cogs spinning in her head to become visible.
Deborah Newhall’s costume design has Pike dressed almost exclusively in red, black and white, and her outfits are always as sharp as her wit. Marla’s slick style provides a visually satisfying foil to her grungy girlfriend and second-in-command, Fran (Eiza González), creating a striking visual contrast.
Despite her unlikeability as a character, Marla is undoubtedly the movie’s protagonist, providing a moral conflict for viewers.
The central conflict in “I Care a Lot” occurs when Marla’s scam business is put in jeopardy after placing Jennifer in a care home. Marla soon discovers the woman is actually the mother of a dangerous gangster living under an alias.
Soon thereafter, Marla meets her match in the evil crime lord Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) as he attempts to rescue his now sedated, yet persistently defiant, mother from Marla’s care. Dinklage has no problem matching Pike’s malevolent energy in his performance, underscoring his strength as an actor.
Blakeson’s movie direction shines in pitting these two disgustingly villainous criminals against each other. Lunyov’s malicious nature is highlighted in his threatening consumption of eclairs immediately prior to pulling a gun on his adversaries and his control over multiple underlings, while Marla’s intensity as a villain comes through in slow motion scenes of her aggressively biking in a dark spin class.
In spite of the excellent characterization and Blakeson’s impressive directorial choices in portraying the film’s central conflict, “I Care a Lot” falters in its writing and plot as a whole. Instead of tastefully walking the line between horror and comedy in each scene, the film swings wildly between the two genres, creating a confusing experience for the viewer.
There are multiple scenes in “I Care a Lot” that are undoubtedly intended to incite fear, but they come across awkwardly in conjunction with the simultaneous emphasis on comedy. For example, one of the most terrifying moments in the film occurs when Marla and Fran are violently headhunted by Lunyov’s henchmen.
This noir moment is uncomfortably offset by the absurdity of the plot when Lunyov’s slick and sleazy lawyer Dean Ericson (Chris Messina) then threatens Marla in a manner that is comical in comparison to her frigid psychopathy.
In addition, Lunyov’s unexplained status as a crime lord and his homicidal rage because of the capture of his mother result in a plotline too preposterous not to be funny.
The contrast between comedy and thrill in “I Care a Lot” results in baffling highs and lows throughout the movie that dull Pike’s stellar performance and Blakeson’s intelligent directorial choices. Had Blakeson been more nuanced in his screenplay writing, the movie would be far more impressive and enjoyable.
The film redeems itself in its shock ending, but the intense swings between satire and horror are off-putting enough to prevent viewers from reaching the surprising conclusion.
“I Care a Lot” is worth a watch, but only for viewers prepared to board a rollercoaster of morality, depravity and reality.