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‘I Care a Lot’ Movie Review: A Battle of the Sexes

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for Netflix’s “I Care A Lot.”

“I Care a Lot,” a thriller written and directed by J Blakeson, was released on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on Feb. 19. The film sheds light on a large-scale scam of senior citizens and a riveting game of violent tug of war between main character Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) and Russian mafia boss Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).

The film starts off addressing the exploitation of senior citizens through a perfectly legal avenue — at least, for the most part. An individual is court appointed as the legal guardian of elderly people, therefore granting her access to all of their finances and property.

Furthermore, neither the elderly nor their family members have any say in it because the elderly wards’ contact with the outside world is completely cut off as soon as they are forcefully taken into custody. Why have these adults been stripped of their rights? A doctor, who is bribed and under the direction of Marla as a legal guardian, deems them unable to care for themselves and typically attributes this sudden degression of health to dementia or senile confusion. The word of the doctor urges the court and medical personnel not to take the elders’ pleas seriously.

Photo courtesy of NetflixFilm @NetflixFilm/Twitter.

The portrayal of the scam is terrifying, and unfortunately, similar situations are not uncommon in real life, as Netflix’s investigative documentary series “Dirty Money” reveals. The guardianship system controls about 1.5 million individuals who have assets valued at more than $250 billion. Financial exploitation is ubiquitous in the awful world of elderly guardianship.

Imagine: Out of the blue, you receive a knock on your door. You are told you are mentally incompetent and that you must relinquish your estate by court order. Any resistance will be met with police intervention.

That is the reality of this world, and money-hungry guardians do it under the guise of “I do it because I care.”

It is quite a horrific game, and it is played effectively and without remorse by self-proclaimed “lioness” Marla, hence the ironic title, “I Care a Lot.”

It-girl, feminist icon Pike carries a ruthless and uncompromising energy, similar to the performance she delivered in the film “Gone Girl (2014),” directed by David Fincher. The portrayal is strikingly similar right off the bat. In Marla’s monologue at the introduction of “I Care a Lot,” she preemptively appeals to the audience’s sense of morality by explaining that she “used to care,” but working hard and making it big is just a lie told by the rich and successful. According to Marla, the only way to make one’s way up in the world is to be a cold predator. More than that, a female predator must never bend to the will or threats of men, regardless of circumstance.

Although the beginning of the film may lead you to believe this is a story about elder abuse, the plot subtly transforms into a suspensefully charged battle of the sexes. Strangely, you start to root for the underdog, Marla, despite her malicious and money-hungry intentions.

Marla, the owner of a small-time guardianship agency, gets tangled up with Lunyov, a powerful member of the Russian mafia. The mafia boss’s team consists mostly of male henchmen, self-assured their brawn and brute force will get them what they want.

Photo courtesy of NetflixFilm @NetflixFilm/Twitter.

Lunyov’s lawyer threatens her with death if she does not release one of her wards, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest).

As the story typically goes … the underdog woman backs down to the big scary men. To their torture methods in the middle of a junkyard in the dead of night. To their guns and fleet of black Escalades.

Ah, but no. Marla never backs down, and she reserves particular disdain for men and their self-assumed power over the will of women. She continues to increase her demands of Lunyov, requesting an absurd amount of cash in return for the release of the ward, despite her inferior position of definite defeat and imminent death.

In a scene after the mafia attempts to assassinate Marla, she fights her way out of a locked car at the bottom of a lake. Her unrelenting, fighting spirit — a female underdog versus the strong many — is reminiscent of Beatrix Kiddo’s scene in “Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)” in which the skilled mercenary punches her way out of a coffin and digs her way through six feet of dirt. Both women gasp for air as they reach the surface, another unexpected win against powerful men used to getting what they want. These women cannot be killed.

The film also includes a ride-or-die romantic relationship between Marla and her assistant, Fran (Eliza González), which is both hot and awe-inspiring — their love is unshakable through it all. They may not have morals, but they do have each other.

Photo courtesy of Con Todo @contodonetflix/Twitter.

I was unsure of “I Care a Lot” for the first few scenes due to being wary of Blakeson making a half-hearted, off-brand attempt at recreating another Amy Dunne, “Gone Girl”-esque character. However, I was abruptly and pleasantly surprised by the sharp turns of events throughout this suspenseful thriller as it develops a more complex storyline that has viewers similarly rooting for the bad girl, making them question their own moral character.

Do we root for Marla in the name of feminism? After all, she is just playing the game. Or do we condemn her for her immoral acts? Be sure to watch “I Care a Lot” in order to determine where your moral compass points and what feelings of disgust or support rise from your gut as the plot unfolds.

Jacqueline Lee is an Entertainment Intern for the winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at jacqusl4@uci.edu.