Cast: Melanie Lynsky, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy
Director: Macon Blair
Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
There's something both uniquely sympathetic and irrevocably damaged about actor Macon Blair's onscreen presence. His role in Jeremy Saulnier's superb crime drama Blue Ruin melded twitchy intensity with an innate likeability, making for a compelling everyman which transcended the stock vigilante hero. His supporting turn in Sauliner's visceral followup Green Room further cemented Blair's talents for combining menace and decency, and now we have his directorial debut, I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, which also gleans a few tricks from Saulnier; not to mention Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Unfortunately, the results are a picture which wears its influences like a tight-fitting Saxon T-shirt and treats its characters with utter indifference, all the while doling out cartoonish violence and pointless faux-quirkiness like it's 1997.
Ultimately, Blair's film illustrates what happens when one tries to hard to walk a tonal tightrope between macabre comedy and tension-filled drama. It's a tricky balancing act the writer-director can't quite navigate, but he does have a winning ally in Melanie Lynsky, who brings a measure of lived-in believability to a story which eventually devolves into a series of misjudged suburban noir cliches. Her character, a lonely nursing assistant named Ruth, seems to be moving through life in a state of indifference; visualized in an early amusing montage where she politely picks items off the floor of the grocery store and indulges in a patient's racially-charged final words. One day, she comes home to find her home burglarized; her laptop stolen, family heirlooms swiped, and sense of security violated. Ruth is the type of person who believes everyone is an asshole, but instead of allowing Lynsky to project such sentiments through gestures and nonverbal language, Blair saddles her with cringe-inducing monologues in which everything is spelled out.
This tendency for Blair to push too hard, both in terms of the writing and the inevitable nihilistic violence which amps up during the second half, is par for the course for a first time filmmaker, but is also emblematic of someone clearly fetishizing dark comedy crime pictures of the 1990s (i.e. Fargo, Jackie Brown, Grosse Point Blank, etc). The problem here is that the glut of sub-Tarantino, low-rent Coen Brothers knock offs have since spiraled into the realm of self-parody, and beyond that, fellow collaborator Saulnier has already done his own Blood Simple homage with a more deft hand. The film's setup, which involves Lynsky's jittery everywoman teaming up with an oddball neighbor (Elijah Wood, sporting retro glasses and nunchucks) in order to track down the lowlifes who broke into her home, is promising, but Blair seems more interested in goofy slapstick and eccentric characterizations than anything approaching relatable human behavior. It's a shame then, that Lynsky's off-kilter and yet fully believable performance gets increasingly drowned out by Wood's incessant mugging (nunchucks, heavy metal, and ninja stars, really?), playing an amped up social misfit which feels beamed in from the set of Napoleon Dynamite. There's also a throng of forgettable criminals (David Yow, Devon Graye, and Jane Levy, respectively) on hand in oder to complicate the skeletal plot and of course, allow for some ridiculous bloodshed towards the climax.
At no point do we really care about any of these characters since, aside form our protagonist, they all feel pasted in from some mid-90s crime thriller bargain bin. Blair has an eye for camera movement; (a tracking shot involving Lynskey grabbing a knife while slowly moving through her vandalized house shows aesthetic promise, for example), but this is still a largely forgettable affair from a filmmaking standpoint. Thematically, the notion of a woman pushed to the edge because of her disdain for humanity allows for a certain kind of gender-subversion, but Blair never invests such a scenario with enough realism for Ruth's rage to land with any impact, especially since the character becomes little more than a prop for the film's eventual slide into violent neo-noir absurdity. A story about humanity lacking empathy and prizing self-interest over compassion is especially prescient during our current political climate, but I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore sidesteps socioeconomic and psychological depth in lieu of a caricatured take on Joel Schumacher's Falling Down, minus the justifiable anger.