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Film / I Care a Lot

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"I used to be like you... thinking that working hard and playing fair would lead to success and happiness. It doesn't. Playing fair is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor. And I've been poor. It doesn't agree with me. 'Cause there's two types of people in this world: the people who take... and those getting took. Predators and prey. Lions and lambs. My name is Marla Grayson, and I'm not a lamb. I am a fucking lioness."
Marla Grayson

I Care a Lot is a 2020 satirical black comedy crime thriller film written and directed by J Blakeson. The film stars Rosamund Pike, with Eiza González, Peter Dinklage, Chris Messina, Alicia Witt, Macon Blair, Damian Young and Dianne Wiest in supporting roles.

Marla Grayson (Pike) is a con artist who makes a living as a corrupt guardian, convincing the legal system to be granted guardianship over vulnerable elderly wards. Afterwards, she then imprisons them in old people's homes, cutting them off from the outside world, sells off their homes and assets, and keeps the proceeds.

With her business partner and girlfriend Fran (González), Marla targets a pensioner named Jennifer Peterson (Wiest), who is a particularly enticing mark as she has no apparent partner or close family. However, Jennifer turns out to be far more than meets the eye...

I trope a lot:

  • Abusive Parents: Implied. When Marla is threatened with a video of her mother, she is unfazed and calls her a "fucking sociopath".
  • Always Save the Girl: Roman makes it clear that while he desperately wants to save his mother, he doesn't give a damn about Marla's other victims. Near the end of the film, when Jennifer is finally freed, he actually teams up with Marla to expand her con.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Judge Lomax. Whether he is incredibly gullible and believes everything Marla says at face-value or he is working alongside her for a cut is unknown. He only makes appearances in courtroom settings; any backdoor deals are unseen.
  • Amoral Attorney: Dean Ericson. He flat-out says that he finds nothing wrong with Marla abusing countless clients, just that only Jennifer is off-limits.
  • Aside Glance: Happens once. After Dean Ericson begins hinting to Marla that Jennifer is far more powerful than she appears, Marla sits back and smirks directly at the camera before asking "Is that a threat?"
  • Asshole Victim: Feldstrom, the son of one of Marla’s earlier victims, makes good on his threat and guns her down at the end of the film.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The beginning of the film suggested that Marla was merely using Fran as a tool and that the latter was a Love Martyr who was going to eventually realise the former was a monster who felt nothing for her and betray her. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their relationship was genuine and Fran was just as complicit and gleeful in her endeavours as her girlfriend.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Marla’s entire modus operandi; she’s a con-artist who gains legal guardianship of elderly or disabled people and pretends to act in their best interest while at the same time defrauding them and then leaving her victims to die in nursing homes, alone and penniless.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Justified. Sam, the director of an assisted living facility, is part of Marla's conspiracy of rob the elderly. She imprisons them in his facility so she can seize and liquidate their assets without interference. In exchange for a cut of the profits, Sam has his staff control and abuse the victims to keep them from stopping Marla's fraud.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity:
    • Rather than just killing Marla outright, Roman pushes her car into a lake. This gives her time to get out and escape.
    • Rather than kill Fran, Roman's men injure her and leave the gas on to explode, leaving her alive for Marla to come back and rescue.
  • Book Ends: Marla blows off Feldstrom's threats in a parking lot towards the start. He shoots her to death in the parking lot of a news station in the final scene.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Marla thinks nothing of imprisoning the old lady from the beginning in a psychiatric ward and keeping her from her son; it's not even the worst thing she does. Then he shows up and kills her because his mother died without ever seeing him again.
  • Call-Back: Feldstrom threatens Marla, and she blows off his threats. He comes back in the final scene and actually shoots her.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Marla's first patient and her son. She dies alone, and her son comes back to get revenge on Marla in the final scene.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: Marla almost always wears matching pantsuits in bright colors.
  • Death by Materialism: Barely avoided with Roman, with Marla refusing to simply surrender his mother back to him hoping to get more money out of them, played straight with the man from the beginning.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Downplayed. Peter Dinklage plays an apparently brutal Russian gangster, but he's Affably Evil if you don't get in his way.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Marla dies in Fran's arms at the end.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Judge Lomax, who is either as sharp as a bowl of jello or in on Marla's scam, does have a point that since Dean Ericson doesn't have any official paperwork declaring him Jennifer's lawyer, he doesn't have any reason to represent her.
  • Dying Alone: Feldstrom is permanently cut off from contact with his vulnerable mother because she got caught in Marla's web, and Marla implies in court that it's his fault — all because he was trying to respect his mother's wishes. He never gets to see her again, and she dies helpless and alone.
  • Easily Forgiven: Roman admits to not liking or trusting Marla at all, but he still goes into business with her and makes her a millionaire.
  • Elder Abuse: Marla makes her money taking control of elderly people's lives and trapping them in nursing homes with no contact with the outside world, where they eventually die of neglect. When Jennifer refuses to tell Marla who she really is, Marla punishes her by reducing her meals and keeping her confined to her room.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • Roman is a vicious Russian gangster but he isn't going to let Marla get between him and his mom.
    • Subverted by Marla. Roman tries to pull this on her with her mother, but Marla calls her a psychopath and says she doesn't care what happens to her.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Marla genuinely loves her girlfriend Fran.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Played with. The first half of the film leads us to believe that Marla is a case of this, and thus wouldn't be capable of truly loving Fran, who was also set up to be a Love Martyr. It ends up being averted as Marla and Fran have an actual relationship, and the latter is just as evil as she is. Played straight when she blows off Feldstrom's threats, thinking he can't actually care enough to keep them. This leads directly to her death - turns out Feldstrom really did care that much about his mother's fate.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Marla and Fran are a Con Artist couple heartlessly tearing families apart for money and Roman is a ruthless Russian crime lord determined to kill the both of them.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Neither Roman or the guy from the beginning will accept Marla exploiting and keeping them from their moms. Averted with Marla herself not caring about her own mother.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Marla is very beautiful, which she uses to her advantage when she's trying to turn judges and others in her favor.
  • Freudian Excuse: Implied. Marla grew up in poverty and almost seems happy when Roman threatens her mother.
  • Girlboss Feminist: Guardian Marla is a sharp-dressed woman who dragged herself up from poverty and accuses men of disrespecting her. The men in question are sons of women that Marla has preyed upon to steal their money and valuables, before throwing them in deprived care homes to be bled dry by the state.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Marla is an evil, extremely corrupt character who constantly vapes.
  • Industrialized Evil: Marla tortures Jennifer but does so through legal means, like putting her on minimal meals and reducing her time outside to almost zero.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Roman. He presumably continues to control and profit off of the huge elder scam corporation along with all his other ventures he had going on.
    • The Judge. Whether it was just plain old incompetence, or he was in on the scam, he faced no consequences for ordering dozens of innocent elderly people into this con-woman's care with no questions asked.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Marla appears to have gotten away with everything and become the multi millionaire she always wanted to be by exploiting the elderly on a mass scale. Then the guy from the opening who threatened her shows up and makes good on his promise, shooting and killing her.
  • Karmic Death:
    • The doctor who helps Marla to imprison elderly patients by faking their records is murdered by the Russian mob, who Make It Look Like an Accident.
    • Not only did Marla deserve to die, but she is murdered by a man she forgot about whose mother died alone and afraid because of her.
  • Morality Pet: Horrible as Marla is, she really does love Fran, and vice versa.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Amos actively participates in Marla's scheme to defraud the elderly by exaggerating or outright fabricating her patients' symptoms so the court can have cause to place them under guardianships. Roman eventually kills her for doing this to his mother.
  • Mugging the Monster:
    • Marla picked on Jennifer because she thought she was easy prey. Turns out that Jennifer is neither, because she's the beloved mother of a Russian gangster.
    • Played with. It's clear that Feldstrom wasn't dangerous until Marla took his mother from him and forced her to die alone.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Feldstrom shoots Marla at the end, and he screams that because of Marla, his mother died alone in a care home, and he never had the chance to see her before her death because no one would let him.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The Russian mobsters kidnap Marla by drugging her and putting her in her own trunk.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Subverted. Marla is evil, and she's a lesbian, but she genuinely loves Fran, and their relationship is portrayed as her one and only redeeming quality.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Leans heavily on the cynical side, with the protagonists being a pair of immoral con artists and the villain being a ruthless Russian gang boss, with a lot of commentary on how late-stage capitalism makes monsters out of men and women.
  • Soft Glass: Marla is able to kick the window of Roman's BMW out easily with her canvas sneaker, despite being underwater.
  • Smug Snake: Marla is as remorseless and arrogant as she is cruel.
  • Storming the Castle: Roman's men attempt this at one point at Marla's retirement home to save his mother but are foiled by bad luck and the police.
  • Straw Feminist: Marla is fond of telling Fran that she won't be intimidated by men or their threats, which overlooks that Feldstrom threatens Marla because she has left his mom alone, terrified, and without anyone to help her. She pays for this.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: As per her opening monologue, Marla describes the two types she believes in as "people who take" and "those getting took", then comparing it to the more common contrasts of predators and prey, and lions and lambs.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Marla's reaction to learning she is dealing with dangerous people is believing she'll get more money out of this, even when they start sending assassins. Fran calls her out on this.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Marla and Fran are a loving lesbian couple but also business partners and con-artists who imprison the elderly to steal from them.
  • The Unsmile:
    • The care home workers greet Jennifer with very unsettling smiles.
    • Marla flashes a couple as well at different points in the film when she's trying to come across as a caring woman who's just trying to do what's best for her wards. It comes across as insincere and uncanny.
  • Villainous Friendship: Marla was genuinely friends with Dr. Amos, and is genuinely saddened by her death. She even brings it up during her next visit to Jennifer.
  • Villain in a White Suit: In the final scene, Marla rocks a white suit as she goes for a walk and runs across a forgotten enemy.
  • Villain Protagonist: Marla and Fran, the main characters, are two con artists who legally kidnap elderly people, have them placed under unnecessary guardianships, and then liquidate their assets for financial gain. They find themselves up against a Russian mob boss who wants to get his mother out of Marla's clutches by any means necessary.
  • Villain Respect: Dean Ericson admits to Marla that he's impressed with her scam, calling it "The American Dream".
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Marla goads Jennifer into choking her and uses that as an excuse to make Jennifer look insane.
  • White Shirt of Death: Marla wears a white suit when she gets shot at the end.