I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Macon Blair.
Written by: Macon Blair.
Starring: Melanie Lynskey (Ruth Kimke), Elijah Wood (Tony), David Yow (Marshall), Jane Levy (Dez), Devon Graye (Christian), Christine Woods (Meredith), Robert Longstreet (Chris Rumack), Lee Eddy (Angie), Michelle Moreno (Jana Huff), Myron Natwick (Killer Sills), Jason Manuel Olazabal (Cesar), Gary Anthony Williams (Det. William Bendix).
There is hardly a moment of Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore that I didn’t enjoy, and yet when the movie ended, I couldn’t help but think that the whole thing never quite came together. Blair is trying quite a few different things out in the film, and has a tricky mixture of tone to pull off, and honestly, I think he’s trying to do too much. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last month before hitting Netflix this month – feels like something that would have played Sundance back in the 1990s – when there wasn’t necessarily the same kind of quirkiness overload coming out of that festival. Honestly, I am reminded of the debut features of the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth) – which rank among their weaker films, and yet show directors of great promise. The same is true of Blair here. The reason all of this works however is not Blair, but his leading lady – the wonderful Melanie Lynsky – who holds the film together when it threatens to fly apart.
In the film, Lynsky plays Ruth – a nursing assistant at an old folks home, who we first meet suffering one indignity after another – a old person who uses their last breath to say something racist, being stuck behind one of those noisy trucks, with the massive exhaust pipes, being cutoff in the supermarket checkout line, even though you only have one item and are headed for a 15 items or less line, and the person who cut you off clearly has more than 15 items, then going to a bar for a quiet beer to read a book, only to having a seemingly nice guy ruin a major plot point for literally no reason, and arriving home to find dog poop on your yard. It’s all enough to send anyone batty – and that’s before she walks into her house, and sees that has been robbed – her laptop, her grandma’s silver, etc. – gone. She calls the police, but quickly realizes that their job stops when they give her the police report to file with her insurance company – they aren’t really going to be looking for anyone. But when she finds out where her laptop is – by tracking it on her phone, as the criminals were not smart enough to wipe her computer – she decides to go get it back. Needing backup, and not having anyone else, she enlists her weird neighbor – who she doesn’t know – Tony (Elijah Wood) – who has nunchakus’ and throwing stars, along with a rat tail, and an obsession with right and wrong – help her. Thus sets off a series of events that become increasingly violent as the film moves along.
One of the strange things about the movie is that it almost seems like every character belongs in a different film – and that by bringing them together, Blair is trying for something unique. It works – up to a point, although really only Lynskey’s Ruth is a believable character. Elijah Wood has a lot of screen time, and he’s great fun as the delusional, obsessive Tony (my favorite line in the movie may just be the hurt way he says “It’s not your lawn tiger”) – but I kept waiting for that moment he becomes more than a screenwriters gimmick – and it never really comes. The same is true for the trio of criminals who she eventually tracks down (although, as always, I liked Jane Levy as one of them – even it took me a while to recognize her). My favorite supporting performances are actually my Anthony Williams (a voice actor on literally every show my 5 year old daughter makes me watch) as the police detective who shows up to take Ruth’s report, and who reappears a couple of times to share awkward personal information, and Christine Woods, as a rich, bored housewife who is downright hilarious.
But it’s Lynsky who owns the movie. Her role was in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures back in 1994 - as one of a pair of teenage girls who conspire to kill their parents who want to keep them apart. While her co-star in that – Kate Winslet – has gone onto become on the most awarded and acclaimed actresses of her generation, Lynsky has bounced away, appearing mainly in supporting roles in mainstream and indie films alike – and on many TV shows. It’s not an exaggeration to call her one of the great character actors working right now – when you see her name in the opening credits, you know there will be at least one thing worth watching in the upcoming film. She hasn’t often had a film built around her though, and she makes the most of her chance here. In some ways, it’s an odd leading role – as Ruth has to react more than act to things around her – yes, she sets everything in motion, but doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into. Her performance is understated and quiet – more body language than anything else. No matter what is going on around her, Lynsky holds the film together, by being the one element who remains believable throughout.
I do think that Macon Blair – a great character actor himself, best known for his roles in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room – has a future as a writer/director. I do think that he’s perhaps trying to do too much here – trying to hit too many different notes, and not quite doing so. But I was also serious when I compared to the film to early works by Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne – those two eventually worked things out, and so can Blair. And in the meantime, we still have this highly entertaining film built around a great performance by Melanie Lynsky. That’s enough for now.