The “western” model of senior care — when those who don’t have requisite support system turn to professional assisted living — has had its share of bouquets and brickbats. Many claim it’s the “dignified, independent” thing to do, not depending on family or community and treading your own path with the support of institutionalised help — for a price, of course. Many argue it’s a sad reflection of society when it doesn’t want to step up and provide care to members who are past their sell-by date — so why encourage the system?
I Care A Lot doesn’t really get embroiled in the ethical debate around assisted living. It looks at a business model that 30-something Carla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has finessed: making affluent living-alone elders believe (with the help of on-her-payroll doctors) they are incapable of taking care of themselves and (therefore) should turn themselves into care homes run by her (by proxy); once ensconced in these places, these elders are conned of their fortunes (their houses are sold, pension schemes dissolved etc.) on the pretext of new treatments, and they don’t really have a chance to figure out the scams because they are, by now, medicated prisoners in a carefully-crafted ambience.
Carla works in tandem with her partner/lover Fran — who is more empathetic but (ultimately) ineffectual since she’s a prisoner of her affections. It’s against this backdrop that Carla preys on a new victim, who’s seemingly a great catch: rich, no family, debt-free. But when she takes on this “wealthy retiree” (by taking her “in”), a cat-and-mouse game shoots out of the rabbit hole — with stakes being upped with every passing day. And it gets to a point where brinkmanship evolves into a battle of dangerous egos.
The best bits? Despite being made of reels of roller-coaster, it makes you think deeply: is there any domain off-limits for man-made (or woman-made) scams masquerading as “social welfare”? The fact that it’s a black comedy somehow gives you an out-of-body experience where you feel like you are examining the phenomenon without being part of the sordid show. Dianne Wiest — I watched her after a long time — as Jennifer Peterson is marvellous, and you wonder why you don’t see her more often. Ditto for Peter Dinklage as an unlikely mafia boss.
The worst bits? At times, you may find the “blackness” of the humour a bit too dark, especially if you are sensitised a certain way. There are certain bits that go all the way over the top.
All in all, this is an unlikely entertainer: funny, wicked, smart, twisted, and, at one level, very vulnerable.
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