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The Toxic Femininity of ‘I Care a Lot’
Review: I Care a Lot (Netflix)
Allow me to suggest something slightly provocative but, I think, rather indisputably true: Rosamund Pike has portrayed the two most terrifying cinematic villainesses of the last decade. And she has done so by playing them as ice queens whose super-villainy is tied to her characters’ ability to manipulate social systems in order to strip people of control.
Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne was a conniving sociopath willing to fake rapes and murders in order to punish lovers who fail to meet her (very high!) expectations. Amy manipulates both the media and the criminal justice system in order to ruin the lives of innocents; she’s like a men’s rights activist’s worst nightmare made flesh, a walking, talking horror show whose lies are perfectly calibrated to short-circuit any sort of doubt or discussion.
Pike was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and for good reason: bouncing between the so-called “cool girl” ideal and a Hannibal Lecter-like genius villain with a penchant for psychoanalyzing her prey, Pike’s Dunne was one of the more terrifyingly amoral big-screen creations of recent years. The sauciness and devilry with which the character was written is a big part of the wicked appeal, of course, but Pike made that devil real, her piercing eyes and alabaster skin rendering believable Gillian Flynn’s absurdist tale of frustrated femininity.
It was the loss of control that made Dunne so terrifying, the idea that no one would believe you if you were accused of something as heinous as the rape of a lover or the murder of a pregnant wife. A vicious manifestation of castration anxiety.
I Care a Lot takes that castration anxiety and de-genders it, applying it society-wide. Pike plays Marla Grayson, who has a good little scam going: She finds elderly people under the care of friendly doctors, has them declared incompetent and made wards of the state, and then sells their homes and siphons their life savings away until they’re dead and buried.
Oftentimes, these people have families, as we see in the opening moments when a middle-aged guy, Feldstrom (Macon Blair), tries to see his mother at one assisted-living facility; Grayson uses her court-and-doctor-appointed power as Feldstrom’s mother’s guardian to keep him from her. Neutered, he’s reduced to screaming “bitch” at her in the parking lot.
If you’re a decent person, you’ll likely have to restrain the urge to yell similar obscenities at the screen while Grayson is going about her business. She has mechanized institutionalizing the weakest amongst us, preying upon them by preying upon the idea—the foolish hope—that no one would be wicked enough to pretend to care about people in a way that only imprisons them. This is not an idle fear; in 2017, the New Yorker published a scathing expose on a similar scam, albeit one that did not prominently feature the Russian mob.
I Care a Lot does prominently feature the Russian mob; Grayson targets for control one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who, oopsy daisy, turns out to be the mother of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage). Needless to say, he’s not too happy about the fact that his mother and her assets (which, obviously, are his assets) have come under the control of this vicious bureaucratic knife fighter. But are his guns and his goons any match for Grayson’s mastery of the judicial system?
A number of people I like and respect find the second half of this film to be a bit silly, and they’re not wrong, exactly: At one point, Lunyov engages in a Bond-villain-esque effort to do away with Grayson that goes about how you expect Bond-villain-esque plots to go. I don’t really care, though, because the tone of the film remains consistently, nihilistically dark, and Pike and Dinklage are so perfect in their respective roles. Grayson does not fear death; she fears losing control, losing power, dying impoverished. She has built a world in which she is a god of sorts, able to control the lives—and the quality of life—of dozens of helpless seniors.
I don’t know that I’ve ever hated a villain quite as much as I hate Marla Grayson. I hate everything she does onscreen. I hate everything she represents about our world. And I hate that I actually, genuinely fear her.
I mean, not her, she’s not real. But people like her. People who abuse the system to their own end, who manipulate the legal world to inflict their will on the rest of us. People who manipulate our evolving norms to inflict their corruption on the rest of this. Because, as my friend and Sub-Beacon podcast co-host Jonathan V. Last notes, this film is a perfect portrait of toxic femininity.
From the opening moments, when Grayson struts out of a courtroom and walks to her lesbian lover in a slo-mo hero shot, shutting down the defeated Feldstrom with a tasty bit of feminist rhetoric—“Does it sting more because I’m a woman? That you got so soundly beaten in there by someone with a vagina? Having a penis doesn’t automatically make you more scary to me. Just the opposite. You may be a man. But if you ever threaten, touch, or spit on me again, I will grab your dick and balls and I will rip them clean off!”—to the closing scenes, when she’s spouting girlboss platitudes in the mode of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to business reporters, this is a movie that understands the political power of hiding behind identity politics to achieve your nefarious ends.
All of this is, again, a testament to Pike, whose steely demeanor and icy glares and crisp movements bring to life a character whose evil is so mundane and so believable that it inspires genuine revulsion. I don’t know that I Care a Lot is a great movie. But Rosamund Pike is great in it.
Instead of letting a sociopathic #GirlBoss steal your money in your old age, spend it on things you like. One such thing: a membership to Bulwark+! Just ten bucks a month helps keep this newsletter popping into your inbox and it unlocks special members-only episodes of Across the Movie Aisle.
Paramount Shuts the Window a Little More
Good news, guys: there’s finally a service you can pay money for in order to access movies and TV shows.
Viacom/CBS’s Paramount+ (got all that?) rolled out its offerings in a big splashy event this week, one that can be summarized as “Remember those old things? We’re doing those. But new!” So if you’ve been dying for more Paranormal Activity movies or new episodes of Frasier or something called Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies, this is the streamer for you! It’s a one-stop shop for anyone who has been looking for a site that combines MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Star Trek, and the Criminal Minds universe.
And some sports, I guess?
Anyway, as always, what interests me most about Paramount+—which joins Disney+, AppleTV+, Netflix, Prime Video, the Criterion Channel, Hulu, Shudder, AMC+, and Discovery+ as the latest must-subscribe channel in the race to turn the post-cable landscape into an unaffordable hellscape of unlimited subscription choices; if only someone would bundle these options together and bring them directly to your house via some sort of cord or cable—is what’s going to happen to the movies.
And the answer to that is deeply weird and complicated and also unnervingly simple.
As part of its effort to bolster its movie library, Paramount+ is partnering with Epix in order to bolster its library. Some 2,500 not-new movies that are in the Epix library will be streaming on Paramount+ as well. However, Epix will maintain an exclusive 90-day window on some other movies owned by MGM (like the new James Bond) before the movies also come to Paramount+.
Meanwhile, Epix will get a 90-day window of streaming exclusivity on Paramount titles with some exceptions, which will stream exclusively on Paramount+ after a 45-day theatrical window. Mission: Impossible 7 and A Quiet Place II were specifically mentioned as carveouts.
Got that? Does that make sense to you? Do you have any idea what’s going to be available when, or where, at what price point?
Yeah, me neither.
In the end, the only thing that really matters is Paramount’s signal to theaters that the age of theaters, at least in America, is done. A 45-day window on a blockbuster movie is not a very big window at all; it will further discourage audiences who are already reluctant to head to the theaters due to health and financial concerns from returning. Combined with Warner Bros.’s decision to debut films simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters and Universal’s decision to reduce Focus Features’ films windows to 17 days, and you’re looking at something like Ragnarok for movie theaters.
Meanwhile, China’s dominance of the international box office will only continue to grow. Which means actors and studios and directors will only continue to ignore atrocities like those committed against the Uighurs. Which means big-budget fare aimed at the intellectual level of a foreign teen will continue to proliferate. Which means nothing good for anyone looking for something good and smart at the multiplex.
But hey, at least we’ll have that Flashdance TV show, exclusively on Paramount+, to numb the pain.
Assigned Viewing: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Netflix)
I was going to assign Blue Ruin this week, but those jerks at Netflix removed it literally two days ago. I was going to assign it because that movie stars Macon Blair and I wanted to highlight Macon Blair’s intense actorly presence—a sort of muted desperation mixed with an understanding that the world only makes sense when you force it to—that makes him a highlight of I Care a Lot despite only having a few minutes of screen time.
Instead, I guess I’ll recommend I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, which Blair wrote and directed. It’s an intense indie about Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, who has her own brand of crazily watchable energy), whose home has been burgled and who decides she’s had enough of this world’s bullshit. Her attempt to reclaim her stolen goods with the help of Tony (Elijah Wood) goes, as you might expect, disastrously wrong. If you’re in the mood for a very, very dark comedy, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is the movie for you.