“I Care A Lot” Review: Rosamund Pike Plays a Gay Grifter in This Relentlessly Cruel Thriller

If you don’t like to watch movies about horrible people doing horrible things, you’ll probably want to skip J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot. If you, like me, are a zealous fan of the small but growing canon of lesbian heist movies — which includes The Handmaiden and the very underrated Can You Ever Forgive Me?  —then you might have fun with this cynical, clinical movie steeped in the horrors of capitalism and greed. Enjoyment of the film likely directly correlates with one’s capacity for callousness. I Care A Lot is wicked from start to finish. Unfortunately, it’s also ultimately vacuous in its portrayal of money-hungry monsters.

The gay con artist at the center of the tale is Marla Grayson, played by Rosamund Pike in her best role since Gone Girl. Marla has made a mega-scam out of legal guardianship for moneyed seniors. She colludes with doctors and administrators at senior homes to seize control of these unsuspecting folks’ lives, barring their families from getting involved. It’s a seamless grift. Marla’s brutal pursuit of wealth is horrifying. She sees her charges only in terms of dollar signs. And when she finally hits a snag in her masterminding, it’s not because some hero or executor of justice swoops in. It’s because she finds herself butting up against people just as sinister as herself.

Her latest mark is too good to be true: a single, famililess, wealthy woman named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) who has shown some small signs of memory loss, but her doctor has no problem exaggerating those symptoms in order to get an emergency hearing so that Marla can scoop her up. So long as the doctor gets a cut. But Jennifer is indeed too good to be true. And she’s connected to some very bad people. Marla meets her match, and rather than backing down, she’s entertained by it. She likes a challenge.

There are no heroes in I Care A Lot. Marla muses in voiceover at the start that there’s no such thing as good people, and while I obviously disagree, I fully believe that she believes it. And it’s also certainly true that this movie lacks goodness. It’s a movie where the bad guys are fighting the bad guys, and that’s surprisingly, perversely fun.

Despite all the selfishness and casual cruelty, the movie’s not entirely devoid of interpersonal relationships though. Peter Dinklage’s Russian mobster Roman is ruthless but also loves his mother. Marla’s partner in business Fran (Eiza González) is also her actual partner, and their relationship is surprisingly convincing. Their sex is pretty vanilla, but in some ways, that’s not where the real intimacy is for them. There’s more fire in the way they look at each other when executing a heist. They enable each other’s greed, hungry for each other but also for what they do for each other. It’s not romantic, but it is erotic.

J Blakeson’s direction adds a sleek shine that’s ultimately effective. It buoys the film’s darkness but doesn’t really romanticize Marla’s life or her actions. If anything, that slick camerawork only further emphasizes how evil everyone is, providing an illuminating backdrop to their moral depravity. There’s something more disturbing about watching a bleak narrative in bright technicolor. Marla moves through life in bold single-color suits and a blonde bob cut like an ice sculpture, perpetually clutching a massive vape pen for dear life. The visuals have an Atomic Blonde-like sharpness (but don’t worry, the plot here, while almost a little too neat at times, is not nearly as convoluted or porous), and it’s always refreshing to watch action that doesn’t over-rely on gunfire. At one point, Fran uses what appears to be a reusable shopping bag to take someone out.

Yes, it’s true that most of these characters are defined solely by no more than two interests (Marla: vaping and money; Roman: pastries and his mother). But even though every character here is a sketch, I found myself only really wanting more when it comes to Fran—who largely exists only as Marla’s sidearm—and Jennifer. Jennifer is sort of the nexus for the story, but she’s also absent for much of it, and while Wiest’s performance is sheer delight, she’s underused. And the plot device nature of the character misses out on an opportunity to really dig deeper into the themes I Care A Lot approaches with an exacto-knife when maybe a spade would have unearthed more substance.

Marla’s a glamorous, ferocious caricature. She doesn’t fear death. She’s arrogant to the point of foolishness and yet still always one step ahead of her enemies. She hungrily goes toe-to-toe with Roman’s lawyer, played by Chris Messina, in one of the funniest but also most acidic scenes, one that perfectly encapsulates the show’s crisp and caustic tone. In the film’s final act, she displays almost superhuman qualities, that animalistic survival mode that Pike previously harnessed in the final act of Gone Girl resurfacing here. Marla’s motive is simple: She wants success and power, and she believes one cannot achieve those things without playing dirty. Beyond that black-and-white worldview, we get little by way of Marla’s interiority. She seems less like an actual person and more like a symbol. But truthfully, it works for me.

I Care A Lot is a damning indictment of the corruption that pollutes the courts, healthcare, for-profit elderly care and, most of all, state-sanctioned guardianship, which strips the elderly and disabled folks of their agency. The movie borders on surreal in how blunt it is about its cruelty. Marla’s grift is seamless, because the system bends in her favor. Marla’s a symbol, yes, a symbol for capitalism at its most pronounced—dehumanizing and mechanical and impervious to reform. Marla flirts briefly with getting out of the game when she sees the risks it poses to Fran, but it’s barely a cough of hesitation, especially since Fran also wants what she wants, both continuing to play a dangerous game that’ll never end. Marla is a well oiled machine, and all of the characters here are products of a well oiled machine.

She’s a tricky protagonist for a film to hinge on because of just how irredeemably bad she is and how broadly her motives are sketched. Pike makes it hard to look away from the character though—not because she’s imbuing depth necessarily but because she’s playing the stark brutality so goddamn well. It definitely feels strange to call such a cynical movie fun to watch, but it’s an entertaining thriller thanks to Pike, especially in Marla’s most Amazing Amy moments. But too many things ultimately hold the film back, including the underbaked nature of both Fran and Jennifer but also the odd times when the script makes a girlboss out of Marla. The character—and movie as a whole—work best when she’s just doing bad things and the writing isn’t bending to justify those things.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 309 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. *spoilers in this comment*

    I know this movie spurs some hot debate on whether or not it’s a good film, but I honestly loved it. There was no “good” character here, everyone was ultimately deplorable in their actions and behaviour and you’re not really meant to want to root for anyone to get their happy ending because no one deserves it.

    I did find the relationship between Marla and Fran to be a really interesting element because it’s the only time you see Marla give a damn about anything other than power and money. It gave her character some deeper layers to see how she genuinely seems to care about Fran and pretty much only her. It humanized her in a way, because without seeing how affectionate and tender she was with her, we really wouldn’t have seen any side of Marla that would have warranted an ounce of sympathy. It was also refreshing to have their relationship just be, without any explanation or issue.

  2. okay so here’s my take (spoilers) – i loved the first two acts but then it felt like the writer didn’t know how to end it. i know she’s meant to be a bad person but i wish they focused a little more on her and Fran’s (who i loved btw) relationship. throughout the movie you see how much it’s affecting Fran, so i thought “oh she’s gonna realise she needs to stop because of her love for Fran and this incident has made her realise what she truly values in life so she’ll just take the ten mil and live a nice life with her gf” but no, instead we got a 5min unsatisfying ‘girl boss’ montage, and any morsel of potential growth got thrown out the window and i just wish there could have been a little more nuance applied. or maybe i’m just fed up with men writing wlw stories lol

  3. Thank you so much for this review!! I really enjoyed this movie and yet also feel really conflicted by it. I appreciate how even and nuanced your analysis is. It’s one of those movies I don’t think I’ll watch again, and yet… I want everyone to watch it so we can talk about it!

  4. I love this review, Kayla! And agree with you on pretty much everything I think. Unlike some of the other opinions I’ve seen, though, I actually saw the “girl power” moments as intentionally hollow, and making a point about the ways girl boss feminism does nothing but propel evil women up the ladder of capitalism instead of evil men.

    Ultimately I also learned that I need more monochrome suits in my life.

    • I really like your read of the film as being intentionally hollow about Marla being a girlboss, esp because I also think it speaks to her character. She has that whole moment with Roman about how death is fine and being paid off is chill, but she can’t abide by people ignoring the rules, and I think Marla has recognized that employing topical feminism is a legitimate way to silence a man in a public space.

      I don’t think she’s actually capable of caring about whether women as a whole are respected by men or allowed to succeed, but I absolutely believe that she, when planning out the path of girlbossery, always knew that in a pinch she could use it as a tool. It’s like sleight of hand for a sociopath.

      • Mina, that is such point about the rules! Even though she is doing something that morally reprehensible and she sees the effect of it on her victims, she lives by a sort of finders keepers code that helps her justify it. Roman goes around the rules (i.e. by using violence instead of legal means) and she sees this as “wrong”

  5. I *loved* this movie. Spoilers obvi. but I especially loved how incidental and matter of fact Marla’s sexuality and Dinklage’s stature were. Nowhere in the film did it actually matter that Marla was a lesbian, and neither Marla nor any of Roman’s associates mention or act any differently towards the mob boss. He was an absolutely terrifying dangerous man and was always treated as such.

    In addition to this, I thought the way the plot kind of decentralised the ordinary callousness of Marla’s job was very clever. The central story of Marla vs the mob and this little old lady who is still an absolute monster was so larger than life and over the top in its stakes that you forget about all the normal defenceless elders and their families victimised by Marla’s greed. So by the end of the movie you’re kind of rooting for this monster. And then she is undone by that very ordinary, very everyday, disregard for human decency. Not the mobsters, but by a guy she completely forgot about immediately after he first confronted her.

    And as for the relationship between Marla and Fran, I was thankful that Marla gave Fran the option of running away. Marla didn’t try to manipulate her into acquiescing to her vendetta, except for pointing out that they’d still be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives. She didn’t do the stoic “I have to do this.” speech, isolating herself from her only support. And even when Fran says that they’d have nothing, Marla reveals she still has the millions of dollars worth of illicit diamonds. But Fran was never Marla’s moral compass. Both partners were as amoral as each other and I feel like that’s what made their relationship kind of work, in a sick way.

  6. I very rarely want movies to be longer, but like twenty more minutes built in to the third act to at incorporate Jennifer in some meaningful was could’ve been such a treat. Dianne Wiest was so fascinating and I wish the filmmaker had allowed us to see how deeply entrenched she is in this cynical worldview.

    Like you said, Kayla, there are no heroes here, but I would love to know if Jennifer was a money-hungry freak independently of her son and/or whether she would’ve had reservations about partnering with a woman who falsely imprisoned her.

    While the interview montage was a little long and elizabeth holmes-y for me, I actually appreciated the ending in a way. Either a glossier happy ending or a more abrupt messy end at Roman’s hands would’ve felt ickier.

    Also, not for nothing, the costume designers literally didn’t have to go that hard on Fran’s looks???? She would’ve looked great in anything but they chose to personally target me with fit after fit.

  7. I was fascinated by the compartmentalization Marla and Roman were capable of with their apparently genuine love for Fran and Jennifer and their casual cruelty towards (all) other people. Marla mentioned in passing to Fran two guys who took advantage of her and to Roman her mother whom she seemed to despise so I somehow constructed a backstory in my mind for her but still, she’s so entertainingly despisable. And hell, yes, the animalistic survival mode! I fear I’d be so not like this if necessary and felt like the guy at the gas station looked.

  8. So glad to see a review so I can get all my word vomit out to people who have seen the movie! I was entertained by the movie, but had a lot of feelings that could best be explained by the fact that a man wrote this story. To me, the whole thing read as a heist movie that then decided to cast Marla as a queer woman for diversity points or something, and then slightly changed the script to add some psuedo-feminist bs (I’m not a lion, I’m a lionness; the lawyer saying “he” when referring to the doctor, etc.). I generally am not against writing nuanced/complicated/evil queer characters, but I genuinely didn’t buy it here. The evil Marla elicited just felt so…male. Like “girls can be boys too!”. I want a story that feels like the character was intentionally written to be a queer woman and therefor takes into account the specific ways that those identities play into this evil (sooo it would need to be written by a queer woman). I could just feel that a man wrote it, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Also, I felt no chemistry between Fran and Marla, like again they just wrote a character and then threw in the fact that she was a lesbian. It felt totally disingenuous to me, and the sex actually made me lol. Woof I have a lot of feelings.

  9. It is always such a relief to see Autostraddle review something I need to discuss/understand deeper so I don’t have to spend unnecessary time on other websites :)

    *SPOILERS*

    I must say that I enjoyed watching this VERY much. It may seem small but it still makes me so happy when queer relationships are totally unremarked upon. It also seems (maybe perversely) important that we didn’t see more of their sex life — we saw enough to know it happens but the story seemed more concerned with other points. And honestly, I wonder if seeing more into their sex life may have felt exploitative from a writer/director who is, as I understand it, a cis man.

    And honestly, I loved the highly-stylized Marla death scene. She’s evil and cruel and horrible so she HAS to get her comeuppance, or else we as the audience feel (even more) guilty for having loved her. And the red soaking into her beautiful white suit — while a little on the nose — was a beautiful choice for what was a very candy colorful alt-reality film the whole way through.

    Also also, I too felt personally attacked by Fran’s fits; some of them gave me hard Gigi-from-Gen-Q vibes (maybe just the sharp cuts combined with soft curls?) and I’m NOT mad about it

  10. In a way, I felt the film also ended up being an interrogation of identity politics and intersectionality-lite. We have so many characters from marginalised communities, and yet none are above capitalist thirst. Super fun, yes, but I walked away feeling super implicated.

  11. This has nothing to do with capitalism. Go abroad, writer, and see that this sort of sociopathy is everywhere, though not using courts and such for the grifts. EVERYWHERE… it’s a human possibility, embraced and enacted throughout history.
    Gee: it’s vogue to go after capitalism. Hmm… actually its vague.

  12. This review basically summed up most of my thoughts. The film is remarkably well executed, Rosamund Pike and Eiza Gonzalez were amazing together and I loved their chemistry. The film was slick and smooth and investing, the dialogue and acting was sharp and witty. I also loved the simple fact that the story involved two women who were in love but the story wasn’t all about their sexuality, or coming out, or like living in a repressed society. It was refreshing to see two queer women who were power hungry, and greedy, and imperfect, and intelligent and bold and very much in love with each other. I don’t watch many action films, (And I defiantly feel like if this had stared a straight white cis guy I probably wouldn’t have even bid it a second of attention.) but I actually cared a lot about I care a lot. And I loved every second of it until the last five minutes. When *spoilers* Rosamund partners up with what’s his face and she winds up getting shot in the chest. Again with the bury your gays trope! I mean come on for God’s sake! Why would you partner up with the guy who literally almost killed the love of your life? Why would you continue with all this stuff? Why couldn’t she just take the 10 million, and go with Fran and like backpack around the world or something?! Why couldn’t she build her own enterprise? I mean I get it, she defiantly wasn’t an angel and she did a lot of shitty and wrong things, but did she have to get killed? I FELT LIKE IF A QUEER WOMAN WROTE AND DIRECTED THIS IT WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO THOUGHT THAT?
    Besides those last five minutes though, great film.

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