Netflix’s “I Care A Lot” Isn’t The Movie It Thinks It Is

The Golden Globe–nominated film takes on guardianship fraud but becomes disturbingly nihilistic.

I Care a Lot, Netflix’s new movie starring Rosamund Pike, has garnered a lot of excitement. The movie leaped to the summit of Netflix’s top 10, a big accomplishment for a non-franchise original film from the streaming service. Critics are all in too, calling it “shockingly funny,” “wildly entertaining,” and a “searing swipe at late-stage capitalism.” Some people have even made fan art (honestly, really good fan art) celebrating the work, and Pike is a frontrunner at this weekend’s Golden Globes for her performance.

The buzz about the movie is not a surprise. I Care a Lot appears to wade into a shocking topic, building on stories like this startling and infuriating 2017 New Yorker investigation into conservatorship abuse of older adults. The film also bears all the hallmarks of our reigning affection for a good scammer tale: It has the cool aesthetics, the reveal of a loophole to be exploited, and the heart-pounding exhilaration of waiting for the scammer’s downfall. But underneath it all, I Care a Lot is frustrating and vacuous, all setup and no follow-through, a movie so unsure of what it wants to be that it ends up amounting to very little.

The film follows Marla Grayson (Pike), who’s concocted a terrifying but mostly legal scam: She bribes medical professionals to declare older people legally unfit to look after themselves and then fools gullible judges into appointing her as their legal guardian. Once she becomes their guardian, she places them in nursing homes, often against their will, and immediately sets about liquidating their assets to pay herself. Enter: the glamour. Marla lives well, drives nice cars, has a sharp bob, and wears incredible, bold suits. She and her business partner and lover Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) are the picture of sexy, sophisticated living. Their scam is going great!

But Marla’s grift takes an unexpected turn when a slimy doctor (Alicia Witt) helps her land a “cherry,” an older woman who’s extremely rich and has no family. Marla believes she’s hit the jackpot after she’s appointed to be the guardian for Jennifer (Dianne Wiest), who, it turns out, is not who she says she is, and uh oh she’s connected to the Russian Mafia, led by the powerful crime boss Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).

The first 30 minutes of I Care a Lot are deeply compelling. The initial sequences showing Marla at work are breathtaking — the fake look of distress on her face in court as she agrees to take on another ward and the chilling veneer of performative concern with which she takes over a victim’s home are stunning. You are reminded over and over again that not only is she allowed to do this, but the state enables her and thanks her, and the police stand ready to assist her. Pike is devastating in these scenes as she displays court documents, rhymes off legalese that sounds very official and by the book, and flashes an unnerving smile.

The start of I Care a Lot even goes to great lengths to depict the elaborate nature and reach of Marla’s grim operation: She has an office with an assistant who will validate your parking, a big wall of victims currently in her “care,” and nursing home directors who revere her. She has all the appearances of respectability in her field, and this itself is enough of an indictment of the system she manipulates.

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