Movie Review: I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Melanie Lynskey is a suburban warrior with nothing to lose
These days, it’s easy to look out your window and feel like a.) the world that we all collectively inhabit is falling to pieces and b.) everyone around you is a complete and utter fucking asshole. I mean, Donald Trump is our President. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean drinking water. It feels like there’s a new racially motivated shooting every week. When things are this bad, the collective tendency is towards hopelessness. After all, who is there you rely on? The cops — who, in isolated cases, are the ones being accused of such deplorable behavior? There’s no doubt about it: 2017 is off to a savage start, and the ugliness of it all only seems to grow more difficult to predict with each passing day.
The borderline-brilliance of I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, a new Netflix original that just premiered on the streaming service last week, is that it uses today’s paranoia-inducing news headlines as a novel backdrop for a twisted and surprisingly funny tale of one normal woman pushed to the edge. What’s more, is that the writer/director Macon Blair has cast Melanie Lynskey — one of the most decent-seeming actresses we have; someone who radiates both empathy and also a kind of refreshingly normal, un-movie star quality — as the last sane woman in America. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a jagged little pill of a movie, but it’s also a whole lot of bloody fun, and Blair and Lynskey maintain a singular and compelling tone right up until the movie’s corpse-strewn finale. I wouldn’t recommend the film to those with weak stomachs, but for those of you looking to see the domestic queen from Togetherness unleash some good old-fashioned homicidal fury, this film will act as a welcome counteractive dose to the more timid, audience-tested thrillers playing in today’s movie houses.
Some of you out there reading this might recognize the name Macon Blair, who is best known to most moviegoing audiences as a face in the films of Jeremy Saulnier. In Saulnier’s scorching breakthrough Blue Ruin, Blair was the star of the show: an ordinary and unassuming weakling whose transformation into a hardened murderer reached near-Biblical levels of exploitation movie fury. Blair had a small but no less impressive part in Saulnier’s follow-up Green Room, which was one of the best films of last year. And like his friend and collaborator (Mr. Blair has currently just written the script for Mr. Saulnier’s next film, Hold the Dark), Mr. Blair has a proclivity towards excruciating acts of violence, as well as a fascination with working-class people who are pushed into extreme and/or hostile situations. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a quirkier, more broadly comic film than either Green Room or Blue Ruin, and Mr. Blair, though he displays a fine understanding of both composition and building suspense, ultimately lacks Mr. Saulnier’s obsessive formal rigor. The film is nevertheless a companion piece to Saulnier’s modern classics, and I would argue that, in his own way, Blair is taking some pretty big leaps towards becoming a cinematic storyteller worth getting excited about.
If Blue Ruin and Green Room cribbed from the junko cinema of decades previous — Blue Ruin borrowing its God’s-Lonely-Man blues from scuzzy 70’s revenge pictures like Death Wish and Rolling Thunder; Green Room taking its snub-nosed standoff blueprint from John Carpenter’s original Assault on Precinct 13 — than I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore feels like a charming throwback to the kind of amoral, hyper-violent dark crime comedies of the 1990’s. Anyone who yearns for the days of Quentin Tarantino before he disappeared into the cloistered paradise of grindhouse movie worship (i.e. everything before Kill Bill Vol. 1), or anyone who’s seen the Joe Pesci-starring rarity 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, perhaps, is going to be tickled and very pleased with the morbid stew that Blair has cooked up here.
This is a film where body parts get blown smooth off in the blink of an eye, Ninja throwing stars get lodged in people’s cheeks, and sawed-off shotguns are used to solve most problems. What stood out to me amidst all the rot and chaos was Blair’s visual imagination and the strange sincerity of the tone he establishes. Unlike some of the snarkier entries in the 90’s crime-comedy genre, Blair’s movie has a heart, even if you have to go wading through some sinister waters to find it. By the end of this gory, gonzo journey, I felt as though I had come to care quite a bit about the plight of Lynskey’s put-upon Everywoman: every time she raised her voice, cocked a gun or got one-up on her attackers, I felt like pumping my fist in the air.
Of course, things aren’t looking up for Lynskey’s timid nursing home assistant Ruth at the start of Blair’s film. A patient has just died on her, and to make matters worse, her final words were vile, racist dribble. A neighbor’s dog keeps perpetually shitting on her lawn. She keeps getting cut in line at the local supermarket. The only small thing Ruth can take any modest degree of pleasure in gets comes in the form of a series fantasy paperbacks she reads in her off time, but even some jerk at the bar (Blair himself in a cheeky cameo) has to spoil the new novel’s third-act twist for her.
To put the poisoned cherry on top of the steaming crap Sundae, Ruth comes home one day after a long and thankless shift at work to find that her house has been robbed. When she tells the police, the officer in question seems more interested in whining about his pending divorce than taking steps to solve Ruth’s dilemma (“the world is bigger than your silver,” the man bellows to her, referring to a box full of Ruth’s grandmother’s silver that was stolen from her bedroom). At this point, something inside Ruth snaps. Like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, she’s decided that enough is enough, and she’s had it up to here with the world’s bullshit.
Ruth then becomes obsessed with trying to track down the scumbags who broke into her home. She makes a plaster cast of a footprint she finds in the backyard. She scours consignment sales for her lost items. She asks the neighbors for help, all of whom seem mostly indifferent. The exception would have to be Tony (Elijah Wood, having a lot of fun), the nun-chuck sporting, Judas Priest-loving weirdo who lives next door. Tony is also the culprit behind the mysterious rogue dog poops that Ruth has been finding on her lawn, but she soon learns to put her grievances aside: his eccentricities nonwithstanding, Tony seems to be the only person in this topsy-turvy world that Ruth can actually trust.
The movie’s second and third act see Blair venturing into a richly-imagined blue collar netherworld, as Ruth and Tony encounter a variety of armed tweakers, mouthy scuzzballs, masked goons, sycophantic suburbanites, and more in their search for Ruth’s missing stuff. What’s novel about Blair’s movie is that Ruth doesn’t seem to be driven by some simmering misanthropy, or some Travis Bickle-style disillusion where she’s simply looking for an outlet through which to dispense her rage. Her request is actually very simple: in her own words, she just wants people “to not be assholes”. In this twisted universe, that’s a tall order. Lynn is ultimately put to the test in the movie’s climactic stretch, which sees Blair getting just as violent and intense as his friend Jeremy Saulnier, even if he can’t seemingly can’t restrain himself from throwing an inappropriate joke into the mix now and then.
The movie’s tone is all over the place, as is usually the case with movies like this. However, I was surprised at how often Blair displayed a genuine talent for keeping his action grounded and realistic. Most of the movie’s mayhem is depicted with the same sobering clarity of how it would no doubt play out in real life.
Consider a scene where a criminal is having a difficult time loading her shotgun. It’s a funny, small, telling moment, one that would probably get cut out of a larger studio movie. Texture aside, this small gag ends up having a payoff later that made me want to stand up and cheer. It’s minute, clever gestures like this one that make me think Blair could have a considerable career ahead of him as a writer/director (not that he isn’t a fine actor) and that I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is only the first of many sick tales we’ll ultimately be blessed with. From its nerve-teasing opening moments to its unusually upbeat (and welcome) ending, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore remains committed to its cynicism in a way that I found refreshing, not wearying. Here is a movie that sees your mounting Trump-related anxiety, viewer, and is offering you a conduit with which to work through it.
Melanie Lynskey has been one of my favorite character actresses for a while. I was as crestfallen as anyone when Togetherness got the axe at HBO, as Lynskey was consistently the strongest part of an already excellent ensemble on a week-to-week basis. It feels safe to say that she’s never had a part quite like this, and I’m glad Blair resisted the urge to cast a badass warrior type in the role. Throughout I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Ruth picks up a gun for the first time and projective vomits at the sight of a dead body, in addition to thwarting the movie’s main baddie (an oily, somewhat generic lowlife played by character actor Robert Longstreet) without ever betraying the movie’s central logic. While she never becomes a kill-happy action movie heroine, Ruth does actually exert some control over her increasingly explosive domestic life and stands up to the creeps who are making her day-to-day existence a living hell. In a way, that’s almost more satisfying.
Wood is also better than he’s been in a while as the disturbed Tony, who, in spite of his constantly shifting moral compass, nevertheless possesses a heart and a sense of compassion. This puts him in the very coveted league of people Ruth Does Not Want To Kill: a group whose numbers are dwindling by the time I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore reaches its climax. Still, Wood commits all the way to Tony’s nerdy mania, portraying Ruth’s enabler as the kind of feeble-minded aspiring badass who strongarms his way into a potential suspect’s house and then gets distracted talking about the proper way to make a cappuccino. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is filled with odd, bracing moments like this, and its total lack of predictability ultimately compensates for the occasional overwrought performance or stray narrative contrivance.
These kinds of movies can feel juvenile and boring when not done right. It’s easy to mistake snotty defiance for edge: look to the movies of genre director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service) for proof. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is by no means perfect, and there are a few clumsy moments where Mr. Blair threatens to lose the very delicate thread he’s been weaving. What ultimately saves I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore and makes it such a pleasure to watch is Blair’s innocent commitment to all this poker-faced carnage. It feels like he’s a kid playing a sandbox, and probably cutting off his toy soldier’s limbs, heads and other assorted body parts while he’s at it. If his first movie is any indication of what he might do in the future, I hope we get to watch Mr. Blair play in his sandbox for many years to come.