Thursday, February 25, 2021

I Care A Lot . . . About Seniors in the Movies

As a woman of a certain age, I’m starting to become sensitive to the way older folks are portrayed on screen. I’m annoyed when ageing baby boomers are depicted as “cute,” or (worse yet) pathetically out of touch. I appreciate the fact that Liam Neeson, at 68, regularly kicks butt in his flicks. And I love the on-screen moral and intellectual strength shown by such actresses as 75-year-old Helen Mirren, 71-year-old Meryl Streep, and 86-year-old Judi Dench. 

 Which leaves me of two minds about a new movie on Netflix, I Care A Lot. The film is intended as a thrill ride, in which viewers are never quite certain on which side to be, and in that respect (despite some pretty large plot-holes) it certainly measures up. One curious thing: both writer/director J Blakeson and star Rosamund Pike are British, so I’m not quite sure why the setting of the story and the nationality of its cold-as-ice main character are made distinctly American. Is it a Brit’s comment on American naïveté, or the depths of American chicanery? Or is the film showcasing, perhaps, the failure of American social institutions to protect themselves against unscrupulous con artists?

 In any case, the opening of the film will strike fear in the heart of anyone old enough to qualify for an over-65 COVID vaccine. It seems that Pike’s character, the attractive and well-kempt Marla Grayson, knows just how to find seniors with money and no intrusive family connections. With the help of an unprincipled doctor, a blindsided judge, and several others in on the scheme, she proclaims a medical emergency, gets herself appointed her target’s legal guardian, and has the victim hustled off to a “convalescent home.” While her numerous charges waste away behind locked doors, plied into compliance with heavy-duty meds, she sells their houses and empties their safe deposit boxes, all in the name of providing funds for their ongoing medical care.

 The drama heightens, of course, when she picks the wrong victim, Jennifer Peterson (played by the always appealing Dianne Wiest). Jennifer is by no means helpless—she’s a successful businesswoman in her early seventies who owns a charming home and has a full slate of activities—but within minutes Marla has presented an emergency court order and whisked her off to a facility that quickly relieves her of her cellphone and other ties to the outside world. She seems beyond help. But wait! Jennifer has a secret personal connection that will not tolerate her disappearance, and has the muscle to do something about it.

 From there the story twists and turns, reveling in lurid dramatic clichés. Maniacal lesbians! Blood-thirsty members of the Russian mafia! Peter Dinklage throwing giant-sized temper tantrums! Several important characters get left for dead, but recover completely (this is definitely a gang that can’t shoot straight). I didn’t buy a lot of it, but there’s no question this story is entertaining, if you like mayhem and deceit. Particularly strong is what happens between Marla and her #1 foe, who bury the hatchet in a way that I didn’t see coming.

 And yet . . . I deplore watching Dianne Wiest in the role of an ageing but still vigorous woman who needs to be rescued by men. Aren’t we long past The Perils of Pauline? It’s progressive, I guess, to show a woman who’s capable of being a kingpin and a villain, but why can’t another woman—an older woman—be the one to trip her up? Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a thriller in which a seventy-year-old female kicks butt?


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