…for Netflix’s film I Care a Lot, which my family finished watching approximately 15 minutes ago. There are a lot of reasons why I thought it was absolutely terrible. The flat characterisation of its main character, Marla (Rosamund Pike, who is now a seasoned veteran at playing truly unlikeable creeps). The fact that each person involved came off as utterly revolting and impossible to root for. The Swiss-cheese plot, filled with inconsistencies and improbabilities. That one super annoying scenery-chewing mafia lawyer. The constant barrage of neon-lit CrossFit shots which appear to have been included for the sole purpose of reminding us that Rosamund Pike has nice shoulders.
Okay, yeah, the last one is petty, but it still rankles. I’ve noticed a trend in male-directed thrillers starring female villains: they are always, always, impeccably glamorous. Whether it’s Blake Lively swaggering around in chic menswear in A Simple Favor (another, albeit better-executed woman-centric thriller) or I Care a Lot’s Marla wafting coldly across the screen in a $567 yellow suit, they’re perpetually dressed to kill. As I watch these films, flopped over on the couch in my furry Old Navy sweatpants and obnoxiously toilet-cleaner-blue robe, I wonder: don’t these people ever take a day off? Don’t they ever show up in a T-shirt which costs less than $200? Do the directors of these films sign contracts requiring them to dress every one of their women characters like kaleidoscopic Instagram fantasies? Male villains wear all kinds of things, from tuxes to lab coats to sweatervests.
Real-life women (and nonbinary people – who pretty much never show up in films, villain or otherwise) do not dress in thousand-buck fresh-off-the-runway couture most of the time. But we make up for this unfortunate flaw by possessing something which seems to be unfathomable for the directors of the aforementioned flicks: actual personalities.
As a lot of other reviews pointed out, Marla was given no reason to be this despicable, beyond a vague declaration of “I want to be really rich” and a handful of trite rambles about the world being cold and evil and… full of lions (I don’t know what her ending monologue was supposed to mean, and I suspect the screenwriter didn’t either). Marla didn’t have to be likeable. She didn’t have to be pleasant. But at the very least, they could’ve made her interesting. There was no charisma or intelligence in her mannerisms and thought patterns. Everything she does is either idiotic, cruel, or a mix of both. Her entire character consists of wearing expensive lovely clothing, working out, ruining people’s lives, and… no, yeah, that’s it. Watching this movie was like staring at a block of ice wrapped in a trench coat which probably costs more than my monthly rent. I’m no big-budget Hollywood/Netflix/Prime screenwriter, but I’d like to offer my two cents: funky outfits aren’t a good replacement for compelling, multifaceted characters.
Oh wait! I forgot, they did add a bit of characterisation: they made her queer. That’s another trend I’ve noticed: want to further spice up a female villain who already wears cool jackets and can sprint in nine-inch heels? Right, make her gay! A Simple Favor did it. I Care a Lot did it. Because that doesn’t hearken back to Victorian stereotypes of evil bitter lesbians determined to prey on the weak. Of course, making a villainous lady gay isn’t homophobic in and of itself – it’s just that, much like her centuries-earlier counterpart Carmilla, Marla doesn’t have any characterisation beyond being an attractive queer lady who floats around mysteriously and eats people alive (well, that last one is figurative in Marla’s case – less so for Carmilla).
I also found myself thinking: this movie is very white. Not just in its casting, but in basically the entire premise. At times Marla spouts off feminist jargon which feels jarring and uncomfortable. She acts like she’s been beaten down by the world for being a woman, and through her own grit and toughness she’s risen to the wealthy, privileged position she now occupies. But she already came onto the stage with privilege. She’s a slender impeccably-made-up blonde white woman. She could have walked off a page of Victorian Cult of Motherhood propaganda. She gets away with such blatant fraud in the movie – but if she had been Black, or Southeast Asian, or Indigenous, would she have been afforded the same leeway? The historical record says no. In 1977, two Filipino nurses were charged as serial killers based on the flimsiest pieces of evidence. Newspapers had a field day talking about the nurses’ “inscrutable Oriental” demeanours. They were seen as inherently uncaring and cold, because they were Filipino immigrants. If I Care a Lot had actually commented on Marla’s advantage in her scam – if it had included a message about how society jumps to trust such a repulsive person simply because she fits the colonial stereotype of caring womanhood – that would’ve been powerful. Instead, this is never brought up. It’s inconvenient to the swerving strange mafia-chase main plot, so Marla’s court successes are handwaved off as a consequence of a really important judge (who just so happens to be the only Black character). True, Marla’s girlfriend Fran, who’s in on Marla’s machinations, is Latina – the only nonwhite main character – but she isn’t a legal guardian. She isn’t the face of this scam: dewy-eyed rosy-cheeked Marla is. What a convenient way of clinging to the very upper-rung of privileged white feminism.
Don’t watch I Care a Lot. Just go and browse through some expensive boutique websites. You can stare at pretty clothes, and you won’t have to deal with the infuriating blankness of this wasted movie.