I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Actor Macon Blair has made a name for himself in his two collaborations with up & coming filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin & Green Room, which has left him associated with a slick, low budget style of edge-of-your-seat thrillers. As a first time director in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Blair uses that reputation to his full advantage. He applies the same eye for real world detail and believably brutal bursts of unexpected violence that have distinguished Saulnier’s films to a refreshingly new genre context those two works only hint at: comedy. The violence in Macon Blair’s filmmaking debut is just as swift, brutal, and authentic as it feels in either Blue Ruin or Green Room, but is somehow adapted to a dark comedic tone that evokes howls of laughter instead of fits of nail-biting. Like a subdued, small scale version of The Nice Guys, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore finds a way to continuously surprise & delight, despite depicting realistic, out of left field brutality.

Melanie Lynskey stars as an Average American Woman, seemingly milquetoast in every way except that she can’t let go of petty micro-aggressions. Book spoilers, untended dog poop, obnoxious car exhaust, getting cut off at the grocery store checkout: our modern day anti-hero is disgusted by a myriad of tiny displays of selfishness, rudeness, and greed. She declares, “Everyone is an asshole . . . and dildos.” This Falling Down style of railing against modernity finally breaks her psyche when her home is looted by lowlife meth addicts and the police show little to no interest in helping her retrieve her stolen things: a laptop, her grandmother’s antique silver, and (maybe most importantly) her mood stabilizing medication. This inspires her to embark on a vigilante mission along with a similarly self-righteous neighbor (Elijah Wood in some convincing metalhead Napoleon Dynamite cosplay) to take down the den of meth addict thieves herself. Antics ensue. Horrifically violent, exponentially snowballing antics.

Because Melanie Lynskey’s audience-centering protagonist is unmedicated and increasingly unhinged, there’s a heightened, almost cartoonishly surreal sense of reality in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. The film’s vigilantism is anchored to a believable real world setting, but there’s something absolutely absurd about the way every hunch its protagonist entertains immediately pays off and she swiftly finds her way back to the creeps who invaded her home. The meth head monsters she finds at the end of this trail of neatly laid-out clues are headed by none other than The Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow (who was fantastic in the recent horror anthology Southbound), presenting such a grotesque personification of Small Town Evil that the film takes on almost a religious parable level of simplistic exaggeration. Elijah Wood’s sidekick vigilante is just as clearly coded as a Force of Good with an unbreakable moral code, no matter how much you underestimate him based in his rat tail, his nunchucks, and his lackluster “hacking” skills. The criminals are just as amateur and unprepared as “the good guys” in this allegory about the messiness of revenge and by the time the whole ordeal becomes a violent showdown in a cookie cutter McMansion & the nearby woods, every last player is made to look like a (bloodied, exhausted) fool.

As cartoonishly silly as I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore often is, Macon Blair does his best to place it in the context of a real, relatable world. Light beer, country music, upper-deckers, and smoking meth in the woods all sketch out a real world playing field where Melanie Lynskey’s unreal vigilante warpath can be staged. Her mission of principle, not in search of compensation, but for the simple demand that “people not be assholes” boasts an absurd, intangible goal and the movie itself never shies away from matching that absurdity in its overall tone. It’s rare that modern comedies are as tightly constructed or as visually striking as Blair’s debut. Each scene feels meticulously scripted, competently executed, and necessary to a larger plot with an inevitably bloody climax. In a post-Apatow world where we’re so used to comedies sprawling into overlong, heavily improvised tangential bits, it’s refreshing to see I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore function like an intricate jigsaw puzzle where every piece has its place in the larger picture. It also helps that the shocks of the film’s violence and the humor of its heightened sense of absurdity cut through any of its lost prestige as a product that was dumped straight to Netflix after a very brief festival run. It’s a great film no matter what circumstances dictated its (practically non-existent) theatrical release and I left it newly excited for the careers of several people I already knew I loved: Yow, Blair, Wood, and Lynskey. They’re all in top form.

-Brandon Ledet

How to Play the Miss Meadows (2014) Drinking Game

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As I mentioned in my review for last year’s Miss Meadows, a vigilante justice head-scratcher starring Katie Holmes, the movie works a lot better as a surreally campy oddity than a straightforward moral tale about crime & the failings of the justice system. I said, “There is a moral grey area in Miss Meadows’ worldview. According to Miss Meadows herself, ‘There are bad people in the world and they shouldn’t be around the good people.’ She means that people are either wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘bad’ with little to no further nuance in their worth as human beings. […] Judging Miss Meadows on its merits as a moral tale is a tricky proposition, one that doesn’t flatter its likeability. However, as a detached-from-reality vigilante story with a campy mean streak (and an admittedly low body count, in case that’s what you’re looking for), it’s quite pleasant.”

There’s enough bizarre tonal juxtapositions in both its images & narrative that Miss Meadows has the potential to gradually cultivate a cult following despite (or maybe even because of) its muddled moralizing. Who wouldn’t love a stark clash of aesthetics that could be described under the range of Pulp Fiction Mary Poppins, Cinderella Death Wish, Serial Mom: The Early Years, or Batman in Pretty Dresses? It’s best to approach Miss Meadows as goofy pulp in this way, as it will most certainly be a more satisfying experience than if you took its musings on vigilante justice & mental illness at face value.

To encourage this playful approach to enjoying Miss Meadows, I’d like to suggest a drinking game. It’s a real simple one that should be easy to get a grip on, much unlike the central moral to the film itself. Here’s your drinking prompt if you want to play along from home:

1) Drink every time someone says “Toodaloo”

This prompt is a perfect distillation of the film in a few ways. Not only does it reflect the central character’s antiquated, genteel personality (when she’s not murdering people she deems not worthy to live), but it also is effective for the purposes of a drinking game, as the word is repeated often within the film. “Toodaloo” is Miss Meadows’ calling card (one she learned from her controlling, not-all-there mother), a catchphrase that amplifies her comic book character personality to an absurd extent. Approach the film with armed with this drinking prompt and campy expectations and you might just enjoy yourself.

As always, play safe. Toodaloo!

-Brandon Ledet

Miss Meadows (2014)

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In the opening scene of Miss Meadows, a primly dressed Katie Holmes (as the titular Miss Meadows) tap dances down a suburban sidewalk, whistling whimsically at the CGI squirrels, birds & deer that surround her as if she were a real-life Disney princess. This reverie is interrupted by all-too-familiar street harassment as a lecherous man attempts to lure her into his dirty pick-up truck with salacious commands. In response, she shoots him in the neck. Miss Meadows describes itself as a Pulp Fiction Mary Poppins, but it plays  more like a Cinderella Death Wish, its central character acting as a no-nonsense vigilante that stands as a dividing line between decency & bloodthirsty, frothing-at-the-mouth criminals. It could also be described as Serial Mom: The Early Years and Batman in Pretty Dresses.

Much like with Death Wish & Batman there is a moral grey area in Miss Meadows’ worldview. According to Miss Meadows herself, “There are bad people in the world and they shouldn’t be around the good people.” She means that people are either wholly “good” or wholly “bad” with little to no further nuance in their worth as human beings. Miss Meadows, of course, believes herself to be one of the good ones. She tap dances, reads poetry, dresses immaculately, calls her mother regularly, dates a cop, sings in the choir, plays hopscotch, giggles during sex, knits, gardens, brings her neighbors tea & crumpets, and teaches a 1st grade class about the virtues of courage & kindness. She also, you know, murders people she doesn’t deem worthy to be alive. At one point she even admits with acidic honesty that she would rather criminals die than cost taxpayers in the penal system. That’s pretty damn cruel for someone who’s supposed to be a model citizen. Even Batman had his limits.

It’s difficult to tell exactly where Miss Meadows falls on its protagonist’s genteel brand of vigilante justice. It has the inauthentic feeling of a fairy tale or a moralizing allegory, with only children & a dog named “Frank” being honored with first names and most characters being addressed solely by handles like “Miss Meadows” & “The Sherriff”. The exact nature of the central moral, however, is more than a little muddled. A supposedly reformed criminal seems to question Miss Meadow’s good person/bad person worldview, but eventually she’s more or less proven to be right and his reformation unravels. Then again, Miss Meadows’ own mental health is quite poor and she reveals a little too much of herself in an exchange with a criminal where she shouts “I’m not crazy! You’re crazy and I’m nothing like you.” Judging Miss Meadows on its merits as a moral tale is a tricky proposition, one that doesn’t flatter its likeability. However, as a detached-from-reality vigilante story with a campy mean streak (and an admittedly low body count, in case that’s what you’re looking for), it’s quite pleasant.

-Brandon Ledet