Director: Macon Blair
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, Robert Longstreet
First of all, Melanie Lynskey kills it here, so there’s that, okay? She’s just the best.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. is the feature debut from Macon Blair, star of Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (he also played a supporting role in Green Room). The sensibility is immediately recognisable as kindred. We’re in small-town middle-America, reconfiguring the revenge crime thriller once again. But Blair’s approach isn’t merely an extension of Saulnier’s. I Don’t Feel At Home has its own feel. It’s funnier, spikier, comes with an existential malaise (as the title insuccinctly suggests) that’s really more political in nature.
This Netflix original film was a huge hit at Sundance just last month, so it’s a little surprising that the streaming service have filed it away anonymously in their library with no more than a shrug and decided not to capitalise on this with even a modest cinematic release. It deserves better. Nevertheless, here it is. Available for all (who have Netflix), presented with its blacks muted to greys and with the fifty-fifty chance of a buffering interruption.
Lynskey plays Ruth, a single woman just trying to get by. A comic montage at the top of the picture itemises her familiarity with the carelessness and entitlement of others, something she vents with understandable frustration to a friend after coming home to find she has been robbed. Her grandmother’s silverware has been stolen, along with some prescription medication and her laptop. The police offer little hope of genuine assistance. Refusing to let this become just another one of life’s little bitch slaps, Ruth turns vigilante, partnering up with Elijah Wood’s bottled-up anger management case Tony. Who’s Tony? Tony’s the guy whose dog keeps shitting in Ruth’s yard.
There’s your key into the movie’s tone right there.
Blair’s film plays like an elaborately visualised stand-up comedy routine; a traditional shaggy dog story with punch lines dotted everywhere, yet the material is played totally straight. As such I Don’t Feel At Home doesn’t immediately read as a comedy film despite being consistently funny. The washed out look, cutting, music cues and overall tone still tell us it’s a thriller. In reality, it’s both. Blair provides propulsive and fluid plot developments at the same rate as he does laughs. Then underpins it with Ruth’s exasperated melancholy and Tony’s outsider discontent.
He doesn’t forget his protagonists’ disillusionment with societal decay. It courses through the whole movie. One senses that this is an exaggerated outlook, but one that resonates as a fair criticism of eroded values and shortened attention spans. I… I’m really trying hard not to say “Trump’s America” here, okay? You can’t move for film reviews pining about how culturally significant every new release is this year, but well. Sometimes when something quacks it really is a duck.
Ruth manages to identify her thief; a wiry blonde psycho named Christian (Devon Graye) who jacks items for another local lowlife. Ruth’s quest is purposefully small-scale; a cry of outrage in a sea of indifference. The audience is on her side, but gets to laugh at the size of the film’s concerns. I Don’t Feel At Home mocks itself. In doing so it presents its arguments from a place of self-deprecation. Oh, and before I get too far away from it, Christian is afforded quite the unforgettable introduction here. You’ll have to see it; I’d hate to spoil the moment.
If Blair’s movie dances with a smirk around its critique of the Trump ideology, it confronts it head-on when Ruth and Tony meet Christian’s father (Robert Longstreet). Christian Sr. vocalises the mentality exemplified by the USA’s balloon animal commander-in-chief. Of course this movie wasn’t written, produced, shot and assembled within the last two months, but this gaseous cloud of obnoxious bully-or-be-bullied fuck-youism has been steadily spreading for the last few years. Blair approaches it with a Geiger counter and boy does it crackle.
One of the pleasures of I Don’t Feel At Home is how joyfully it undercuts conventions. Where revenge cinema is filled with merciless vigilantes, Blair’s would-be heroes are tentative, horrified by bloodshed and prone to accidental victories or dumb luck. They’re the apologetic left, if you will. At the same time, it’s mocking the inhumanity of genre stalwarts like Steven Seagal; calls their macho brand of robotic violence useless and stupid. In its final phases it pulls apart the traditional action showdown. Nothing goes to plan, gloriously. And if this really is some masterfully predicted indictment of Trump’s era, I Don’t Feel At Home suggests that inept criminality will bring about its own end, but that nothing will happen if we sit passively by and just accept.
Don’t accept shitty things, it says, but be careful of the cost of fighting.
But you know what? You can leave the politics out of it. You can throw all of that out if you want to. Blair’s movie works just as well as a simple, throwaway comedy movie. You can watch it, enjoy the hell out of it and move on. But there is more to it, so approach it from whatever level you wish. And not for nothing, but it’s also a more incisive and far less patronising cry against bureaucratic incompetence than I, Daniel Blake. Don’t just put it on your Watchlist. Watch it.