Ours is a world filled with assholes. Strangers act rudely in daily interactions, people whose job it is to help others often do so poorly out of their own dissatisfaction, and cruelty trumps compassion on a regular basis.
It’s a sadly unavoidable fact and one that Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is far too aware of. Each day when she leaves her job as a nursing assistant she heads home to drown it all out with alcohol, loneliness, and maybe some prescription assistance, but her sad routine hits a snag one day though when she returns to discover her house has been robbed. Laptop, pills, and a family heirloom – all gone. The police are no help, so when her phone app reveals the location of her stolen laptop she heads out to retrieve it with an odd neighbor by her side as backup. Tony (Elijah Wood) is another loner, but one who fills his time with his faith, his work-in-progress martial arts training, and his dog, Kevin.
This unlikely pair‘s journey brings them face to face with criminal elements ranging from a crooked pawn shop owner to murderous thugs, but their first taste of adventure might just be their last.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore — hereafter referred to as “the movie” – is a refreshing and highly entertaining blend of light and dark, and a few wobbly beats aside writer/director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonal gem that has us laughing one minute, clenching our fists the next, and on a couple brilliantly-crafted occasions doing both simultaneously. Blair’s best known for his roles in films like Blue Ruin and Green Room, and he brings a similar, albeit lighter, approach to tone with his debut behind the camera.
Seriously, the home invasion scene here is a masterclass in direction, writing, editing, and performance as it squeezes tension and laughs from graphic violence and ridiculously funny dialogue – and adds vomiting as the perfect icing for this particular cake. Blair’s script champions humor over the darkness for most of the film, but when it comes time for shit to get real it does so with an unavoidable and intense brutality.
The movie is a comedic thriller, but Blair has more on his mind beyond pure entertainment. As the stresses and troubles mount, Ruth’s friend tells her she has all the time left in the world, to which she replies “I don’t even know what that means.” It’s just something people say she’s told, but it’s not nearly enough for an increasingly frustrated and emboldened Ruth. All she wants is for “people to not be assholes,” and it’s a cause that teases a far less Asperger-ish Falling Down. It’s a fun but serious plea for a better world, and barring that it also serves as a warning from the downtrodden and the kind – when words and compassion fail, the throwing stars and Plaster of Paris footprints will come out with a vengeance.
This won’t surprise anyone who’s seen her in anything, but the heart and soul of the movie is Lynskey. There’s a softness to her performance, and as with many of the roles she’s played you can’t help but want to give her Ruth a hug and tell her it’ll be okay, but Blair gives her something better which she in turn gifts to the audience. In a role written with her in mind, he gives Lynskey a character who’s down but not out, a woman who’s on the ropes but who comes back swinging. Ruth doesn’t become a full-fledged action hero, but as her reluctance decreases the pain she dishes out grows – and it’s a beautifully clumsy sight to behold.
Wood shines too with a character who’s more than just a bundle of quirks. Tony’s an oddball, but he’s an oddball whose eccentricities are grounded in his faith. There are some humorous moments related to his beliefs, but the film, and by extension viewers, are never laughing at those beliefs. It’s a small thing, but it’s a rare thing. The supporting cast is equally strong and memorable – Christine Woods is terrific as a stepmom who’s equally fed up with her lot in life – but it’s an actor who I didn’t even recognize at first that sears her way into the fear receptors of our brains. Jane Levy plays one of a trio of thugs, and while the threesome deliver their share of laughs she is a wickedly terrifying delight. She has little dialogue, but the threat in her eyes and actions is mesmerizing.
The talent continues behind the scenes with a score by Brooke Blair & Will Blair that moves effortlessly with the action onscreen building an atmosphere by turns jaunty and propulsive. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple (Swiss Army Man) adds to the whole by crafting scenes of natural beauty – filming in the lush state of Oregon helps too – and human ugliness with equal strength.
Blair tilts a bit too far towards comedy once or twice throughout the movie – a sequence involving a snake suffers a bit – but while those moments offer a mild upset they never threaten to derail the experience. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore moves with the force of a woman scorned by the world itself, and fighting back has rarely been this satisfying and entertaining.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore premieres on Netflix on February 24th, 2017.
Related Topics: Sundance