Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Care a Lot, or: Don’t Vape and Drive

Though I’m as eager as the next person to say goodbye to February this year (the cold, the snow, the continuation of a global pandemic), I’m a bit sad to bring Feminist February to a close. It’s been an especially great one on the Collab, as we’ve been focused on women who, like us, seem to have a bit of a sardonic perspective on humanity. Though not to the point that we would knowingly steal from people while over-medicating them to death, like a certain protagonist of this week’s film. Probably?

The Film:

I Care a Lot

The Premise:

A woman who makes a living as a shady legal guardian for vulnerable older people meets her match when she attempts to scam a woman with mafia connections.

The Ramble:

Marla Grayson is living her best life–if your definition of a good life is racking up cash through a guardian scheme, using mostly legal channels to gain control over the lives and assets of suitably wealthy retirees. Once she has power over their lives, Marla uses her connections with questionably ethical people in the medical and retirement fields to keep her clients too hopped up on unnecessary prescriptions to protest too much. Operating from the premises that there’s no such thing as a good person and working hard is for suckers, Marla is comfortably amoral–if not downright immoral.

Marla, with a blonde bob and red dress, faces a wall lined with the pictures of those for whom she is a legal guardian.

Though Marla spends a decent amount of time fending off the outraged relatives of those she cares for both in and outside of the courtroom, she’s too pragmatic to feel even the slightest twinge of conscience. When she learns of a “cherry,” a well-off elderly person with no family to intervene, Marla is all too eager to scoop up a new person to represent.

At first, Marla and her live-in girlfriend and business partner Fran, seem to have struck gold. However, things start looking a bit too good to be true when Marla uncovers a stash of seemingly stolen diamonds in her new client Jennifer’s security deposit box. And it might be a little worrying that a taxi arrives at Jennifer’s home, now essentially one of Marla and Fran’s homes as they prepare it for sale. Considering that Jennifer has had no way to contact the outside world since the confiscation of her cell phone, it’s not a major surprise to us that there are some very shady dealings going on…and Marla may finally be in over her head.

Jennifer, a dazed older woman, walks along the hallway of an assisted living facility, flanked by Fran, employees of the facility, and Marla in a crisp yellow pantsuit.

As it turns out, Jennifer is not at all the person she seems to be; in fact, she has powerful connections to the Russian mafia. Her son Roman is quite angry about the fate that has befallen his mother and is willing to do what it takes to see her far away from Marla’s care.

Initially, Roman is prepared to take the fairly mild approach of hiring a lawyer to pay off Marla. Predictably, she is after more cash than she’s offered, opting to let things escalate. And escalate they do.

Roman stands in a dark parking garage, silencing the man he speaks with. Behind him, a large SUV is parked, and a man dressed in black holds a box.

After Marla makes her battle of wills with Jennifer personal, Roman cranks the dial past 10, leading to a shootout at the assisted living facility where his mother is imprisoned. When Jennifer’s doctor turns up dead, it’s enough for former cop Fran to sincerely worry their own lives may be at risk. Just as Marla is all set to carry out a rather cunning plan to lay low with her girlfriend and their secret stash of diamonds, Roman outmaneuvers her. It’s going to be difficult for Marla to walk away from this one unscathed–will her life prove that cockroaches can indeed survive anything?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

In my opinion, this film doesn’t quite live up to its potential. However, I’m willing to give it a lot of credit for maintaining my interest throughout its 2-hour runtime–and for Rosamund Pike’s performance. The casting is very well done here; Peter Dinklage and Dianne Wiest (who I could have stood to see in many more scenes, frankly) are wonderful, but RP does the most work carrying this film. The film is visually stunning too, sort of vibrant ’60s candy colors that contrast so greatly with the grimy, disturbing impulses of its characters.

Tonally, the film doesn’t always get things right. There are times when lines of dialogue feel like they’re pulled from an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; we are very clearly supposed to learn something based in reality that should shock and outrage us. And there seem to be 2 contradictory story lines driving the plot forward: one in which Marla is pulling off a disturbing con, and another in which she’s fighting for her life against an equally amoral opponent. There are times when Marla is facing off with Roman that I want her to succeed and can’t help admiring her survival instinct (though some of the scenarios she survived did take me out of the story).

I do like the commentary on feminism we get here. Marla probably considers herself a feminist; she objects to the everyday sexism she encounters in her life and work. However, she perfectly embodies why representation in business isn’t enough to build a more equitable world that is empowering for women; Marla is in this for herself and herself alone. She’s willing to exploit others for her own ends–in fact, she’s pretty pleased with herself whenever she tricks someone else. Decidedly not feminism.

From what I’ve heard about the film so far, the ending is very divisive. I have to say I agree that it is somewhat disappointing. First, the resolution of things between Marla and Roman is unsatisfying and too convenient to be believed. And the final scene of the film doesn’t strike me as clever, especially not to the degree that it’s meant to be. I hoped for a darker, less moralizing conclusion to the film; this one is too heavy-handed.

On a side note, know what I find absolutely fascinating and am positive will be the subject of a dissertation if it hasn’t been already? The representation of vaping in film (as Marla does this constantly), which always seems to be the marker of a reprehensible character and looks so uncool on camera, in contrast to smoking (at the very least if you’re a glamorous film noir femme fatale).

Would my blog wife trust this one with a stash of stolen diamonds or leave it high and dry with too many prescription meds in the bloodstream? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Cuties, or: Dance Mignonnes

It’s true that the Blog Collab doesn’t shy away from controversy–and this week’s film is at the center of one of the internet’s most intense debates right now. In response to Cuties, people have called for a boycott of Netflix and even leveled death threats at the film’s director. Netflix certainly handled the marketing of this film incredibly badly…but what about the movie’s content itself? Let’s unpack it, shall we?

The Film:

Cuties (Mignonnes)

The Premise:

As she becomes part of a competitive dance team, preteen Amy’s religious upbringing increasingly clashes with the provocative moves and attitudes of her new friends.

The Ramble:

Having just moved to a new apartment in Paris, 11-year-old Amy and her younger brother are eager to stake a claim on their own rooms. However, these plans are thwarted when their mother makes it clear that one of the rooms is strictly off-limits. What could that possibly be about?

A preteen girl looks longingly down from one side of a wrought iron fence.

Part of a Senegalese immigrant family, Amy dresses modestly and attends a weekly religious service at a local mosque. The services are quiet and emphasize women remaining obedient servants of God and, ultimately, their husbands.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Cuties, a group of girls who dress in revealing clothing, rebel against teachers, and practice extremely suggestive dance routines. To lonely Amy, the Cuties have carved out their own freedom, and befriending one of the girls who lives in her building opens up a wholly different way of existing in the world.

Two girls sit side by side in the drum of a clothes dryer.

Practicing dance routines in secret, wearing her little brother’s t-shirts as crop tops, and posting selfies from a stolen phone, Amy begins trying on an identity far removed from that of well-behaved, obedient immigrant daughter. When she learns of her father’s plans to bring a second wife with him from Senegal and witnesses her mother’s devastated response, Amy is increasingly eager to embrace her new persona.

After girl group leader Angelica has a falling out with one of the girls, Amy sees her opportunity to become a permanent part of the Cuties. Absorbing sexually explicit music videos in secret, Amy takes the girls’ choreography and pushes it to an even greater extreme with dance moves that are pretty damn disturbing. Of course, the girls are keen to adopt changes to their routine to make them stand out in an upcoming competition.

In a school restroom, four girls crowd around a phone one is holding, while another girl stands slightly apart from the group.

As Amy attempts to balance her commitment to the dance team with the demands of preparing for her father’s wedding, responsibilities begin to fall through the cracks. Enraging both her overbearing aunt and the Cuties team, Amy skips out on helping her aunt only to miss the girls’ competition tryout. Can Amy ever do enough to earn her spot back on the dance crew…and is that really what she wants?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ignore the boycotts and general outrage about this film–those are largely down to Netflix’s own marketing and promotion. The film itself and the director, Maïmouna Doucouré, don’t deserve to be the targets of anger (and even death threats) when it comments on the hypersexualization of children rather than glorifying it. It does feel worth examining that this story–told by a Black woman and immigrant–is the subject of so much vitriol when exploitative shows like Dance Moms have aired for years with no one batting an eye.

I will say this film isn’t free of its own problems. There are scenes that don’t seem necessary, especially as there are many, many shots of the girls performing extremely sexual dance moves. A lot of these scenes don’t successfully balance commentary with the feeling of exploitation, and it’s pretty disturbing to watch them. I think Doucouré could have found a creative approach to commenting on the sexualization of young girls in a way that didn’t involve so many problematic scenes.

However, it’s a shame (if not a surprise) that internet outrage has overshadowed the film’s nuanced approaches to girlhood, immigrant experiences, and identity.

Would my unproblematically cute blog wife join this one’s dance crew without hesitation or take up a nice jump rope hobby instead? Read her review to find out!