‘Free Britney’, 38-year-old former pop idol Britney Spears’ struggle to escape her fatherly guardianship gives the pitch-black comedy I Care a Lot extra wind in its sails. But British director J. Blakeson was outraged much earlier by the American industry that puts the elderly under guardianship against their own will and those of the family on medical grounds. After which the curator sells the house and household effects, places the elderly person in a care home and maximizes the bill for ‘services rendered’.
A scandal, says Blakeson as we zoom for 45 minutes in early March. It inspired him to create a villainous comedy full of bizarre twists and throws in which Rosamund Pike plays curator Marla, who serially conspires against the elderly with a geriatrician and a care home – all strictly legal, of course. Until she stumbles upon the wrong grandmother, the mother of irascible mob boss Roman (Peter Dinklage). Then it gets hard against hard.
Marla is a brilliant character: a lesbian who uses cynical feminist slogans in her immoral looting. She bumps into male mafiosi who swear by old-fashioned intimidation and violence. Yet Blakeson denies that I Care A Lot is intended as a battle of the sexes.
“At least that wasn’t my idea. I don’t think they’ll see the film as typically post-#MeToo in half a century either. Rather, I parody the current cult of entrepreneurship, success and money. Moreover, it has been my ambition for a long time to make a comedy about an extremely ambitious woman who does not use her sexuality to win, but her brain, guts and ruthlessness. There are so many movies about ambitious men, but I see a lot of ambitious women, especially in the film industry.
“It is true that mafiosi systematically underestimate Marla because she is a woman and also works in care. They think in advance that she will be terrified. The battle of the sexes also comes into play when at the beginning of the film a guy attacks Marla because she has his mother under guardianship.”
Marla is a bastard, but that man looks like a MAGA type with his baseball cap, a Trump voter who thinks he is emasculated.
“To me, he’s a typical middle-class white man who thinks the right is there to serve him. He doesn’t even bother to wear a smart suit in court, he wears a dirty polo shirt and jeans. And now he is deeply shocked and insulted that a woman beat him. A whole new experience, all that remains for him is to sexually humiliate Marla with name-calling. But that doesn’t bother her.”
How did you join Peter Dinklage as a mini mafia boss?
“Because he’s a great actor, of course. But honestly, Peter has the same agent as actress Rosamund Pike, that’s how things sometimes go in the movies. That officer asked, what do you think of Peter in that role, and I said, great, interesting thought. He can be terrifying with just his look and his posture gives it something extra, something spicy. Peter asked if I should rewrite the script for him, but it wasn’t necessary. A mafia boss is not a gorilla, rather not even. He directs his lieutenants from behind his desk and keeps the fear in with some unexpected violence every now and then.”
In small actors, often something sad creeps into the role or his size turns into something funny. Not with you.
“No, that is laziness in bad taste. Peter himself says that he rarely thinks about his height, it does not sadden him at all. And I saw no need to do anything with his height, any more than with the love affair between Marla and Fran. That’s just the texture of their lives, who they are.”
Peter Dinklage as mob boss Roman Lunyov in ‘I Care a Lot’. Photo Seacia Pavao / Netflix
Rosamund Pike is great, except for her I can only imagine Charlize Theron as Marla. Was there much interest in that role?
“My script was very popular, but for many movie stars ‘likeability’ is an issue. Rosamund really doesn’t care whether the audience likes her or not, which is why she was so fantastic in David Fincher’s thriller Gone Girl. Marla is fascinating, but also extremely unsympathetic. Many actresses are hesitant about such a role, Rosamund really likes to sink her teeth into it.”
You hate Marla, but you involuntarily start to respect her.
“Numerous ‘captains of industry’ treat subordinates like garbage, abuse slave labour, are greedy, evade taxes, use dirty tricks against the competition. Business is inherently shady, the heroes of capitalism are inherently shady. Marla is not a mythical creature but just one of the many who hope to become very rich with dubious behavior. They are our role models, if they got away with it.”
Is there such an anti-capitalist message in your head before you write the script?
“I love entertainment that sheds light on the complexities of our society. Nothing is more boring than: there is an injustice in the world, this is our hero, he will solve it in an hour and a half, canvas. I’m just a huge fan of Doctor Strangelove, a black comedy about nuclear war that makes you laugh with a knot in your gut. Because it’s about something very serious.
“The exploitation of the elderly by trustees is a veritable industry in the US, sanctioned by the law. But nobody watches a revealing documentary and a court drama where they solve it for a while puts you to sleep. I think comedies really wake people up. That after my film people start googling what the guardianship is like.”
Have you spoken to people in such a situation?
“No, consciously not. This is about perpetrators, this is not a social exposé.”
Would you then see less humor in it?
“Indeed. This is a black comedy that turns into an absurdist thriller. I hope you will think about our sick system afterwards. There are so many scams going on in healthcare, hospitals or private prisons. There’s an entire industry built on the backs of vulnerable people whose bill or budget can milk you. The more privatization in healthcare, the more scams.”
I Care a Lot is in cinemas starting next week.
Guardianship In the United States, an estimated 1.3 million citizens are under surveillance
Director J. Blakeson thinks entertainment is the best way to highlight abuse of incarcerated elderly, disabled and sick people, as in his black comedy I Care a Lot. But the Britney Spears case really set things in motion.
Pop star Britney Spears, 39, whose fortune is estimated at $ 60 million, has been under the rule of her father James since a mental breakdown in 2008.
At the time, that helped her for a while, Spears said, but that supervision would have degenerated into financial exploitation and obsessive micromanagement of her life: unwanted medical examinations, forced use of an IUD, forced action with a fever. She shouldn’t even see her boyfriend. A lawyer appointed by the judge – Spears himself had no such right – never informed her, despite years of dissatisfaction, that she could request that the guardianship be lifted. He earned an estimated $3 million from her in 13 years, The New York Times estimates. At the request of the judge, her father stepped down as supervisor; but for now she is still under guardianship.
Also listen to the NRC Today podcast: #FreeBritney: How unfree is Britney Spears?
Thanks to intense coverage of the case on social media – #FreeBritney – the US Congress and multiple states are now debating tougher legislation. Because Spears’ case is not an isolated case: in the US an estimated 1.3 million citizens are under surveillance. This mainly concerns the elderly, the sick and the disabled who are not considered to be legally competent; an administrator has to protect them from abuse – and that usually happens. Often such a supervisor is a family member, sometimes a professional who can also be appointed if the family is against. Because a supervisor has control over the assets of its client and approves its own declarations, it can become a revenue model.
It in I Care a Lot The planned concern that shakes out rich elderly people on an industrial scale has not yet been identified, but types like Marla Grayson pop up in the US with some regularity. Marla, played by Rosamund Pike, sees herself as a lioness in an amoral capitalist jungle. With the help of a corrupt geriatrician, a care home and a naive judge, she sets up a lucrative assembly line to supervise, isolate and drain wealthy elderly people.
You can find similar horror stories on the website of pressure groups.Rebecca Fierle-Santoian was arrested in Florida in February, which had 450 elderly people under guardianship. She had a feeding tube removed from a protesting 74-year-old client who subsequently died; without consulting him, she was able to arrange a ban on life-prolonging actions. Not for the first time, as it turned out.
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A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 15 September 2021 A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of 15 September 2021