The Swampflix Crew were generally big fans of the twisty psychological thriller Unsane a few summers back, but it was very divisive in other circles. The way Soderbergh mined the real-life horrors of involuntary hospitalization & insurance scams at the expense of the mentally ill for cheap-o genre entertainment was a major turn-off for a lot of that film’s audience, understandably so. And now I have to wonder what that crowd would make of the recent Netflix release I Care A Lot, which mines the real-life exploitation of the elderly for something even less respectful: a flippant black comedy. At least Unsane was fully dedicated to making the bureaucratic nightmare at its core as visibly ugly & spiritually repugnant as possible. By contrast, I Care a Lot uses its own exploitative health industry scam as a convenient springboard for a candy-coated slapstick comedy about an overachieving #girlboss with a killer wardrobe. Regardless of that choice’s morality or its likely divisiveness, I have to admit that the clash between film’s pitch-black cruelty & sugary irreverence is exactly what endeared it to me.
Rosamund “Gone Girl” Pike is typecast as a vicious, unrepentant monster with an A-type personality and a blunt Lime Cat bob. As a professional “caretaker” & “guardian,” she “earns” her designer wardrobe & lavish home off the backs of her elderly “clients”, whom she traps in legally-forced conservatorships that park them in prison-like retirement homes while she liquidates their funds on the outside. It’s a scam that should be familiar to the audience by now, both through the 2017 investigative article in The New Yorker that likely inspired the film and, more recently, through the ongoing #FreeBritney scandal that’s effectively made “conservatorship” the dictionary word of the year. Maybe that’s why the movie quickly gets bored with dwelling on the details of the scam, then shifts focus to gawking at the heartless inhumanity of the criminals who profit off it. Pike’s blatantly exploitative business is essentially a legally-sanctioned version of organized crime (as her grift requires behind-closed-doors cooperation from doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies for a share in the profit). So, the movie pits her against a network of actual mobsters, testing the limits of her power-hungry cruelty in a rapidly escalating mob war that highlights the disturbing parallels between both sides. It’s all very silly, while also never losing sight of the real-life bitterness at its center.
I don’t know that this film has anything especially insightful to say about the forced-conservatorship scam in particular or even the evils of late-stage Capitalism at large. It’s more of a movie about the type of person who excels in those corrupt, unjust scenarios. No matter the minute-to-minute distractions of its broadly comedic plot, this is essentially a character study of All-American Capitalist Scum. In a system where the only two viable options are to exploit or be exploited, she’s playing the game exactly the way it’s designed to be played. The fucked-up thing is that it’s genuinely Fun to watch her win that game, even after getting an up-close look at the victims of her cruelty. Watching Pike model designer sunglasses, pull on giant cigar-sized vapes, and rapidly force a sugary-smile as if she were firing a gun is endlessly entertaining, and you can tell she’s gleefully enjoying the role. The movie’s both honest about the luxuries & pleasures of Capitalist power and the toll that level of Success takes on the most vulnerable members of your fellow citizenry. No matter how far it strays away from the real-life health industry exploitations of its first act into the cartoonish mobster war of its main plot, everything you need to know about how fucked up our modern healthcare & economic systems are can be seen in a quick flash of Pike’s sinisterly insincere smile.
I Care a Lot is an icy blast. Its plotting could be tighter, and even I have some serious issues with how it concludes, but neither of those nitpicks are enough to sour the acidic sugar rush that surrounds them. The film is just deeply, deeply mean and looks like pure candy, which is more than enough for me. I can’t promise those guilty pleasures will be enough to win everyone over, but I hope we can at least all get on the same page in praising Pike’s sociopathic ice queen performance. She should be allowed to run wild like this more often; cruelty suits her.