“That’s how hard I threw it”
There’s one specific thing differentiating actor Macon Blair‘s directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore from the works of usual collaborator Jeremy Saulnier: comedy. Don’t tell me I’m wrong because the latter director shows his funny bone in Murder Party—I haven’t seen it. I’m not even saying Blue Ruin and Green Room aren’t without some effective humor in their own right either, just that Blair seems to have taken what he learned from those sets and infused it with his own flavor. He’s got the brutal violence, suffocating suspense, and uncomplicated yet tautly written mystery down pat, but it’s all mixed with a brilliant sense of satire and caricature too. Saulnier’s characters are often out of their depth, but Blair’s are comically so.
They aren’t merely put-upon by drastic circumstances explicitly focused their way either. Like the title states, the world itself has gone mad and Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) simply refuses to accept it anymore. Or at least she wants to refuse despite her very human sense of morality kind of blocking her ability to go full on nihilist. So she’ll silently seethe with rage when someone bogs down the fifteen items or less line with a full cart. She’ll fantasize about murdering a stranger at the bar who cavalierly spoils the novel she’s reading as though it’s no big deal. But when she actually acts—wittingly or not—Ruth won’t be turning around victorious. She’ll instead be covering her mouth before apologizing profusely because, like most, she’s angry yet non-confrontational.
Even so, at a certain point you must take matters into your own hands and yell at the neighbor who leaves his dog’s poop on your yard to preserve the tiniest shred of sanity still bouncing around your skull. So when Ruth’s house is robbed of her laptop, medication, and grandmother’s vintage silver while Detective Bendix (Gary Anthony Williams) more-or-less says there’s nothing to be done, she keeps at it until her phone app dings with a location. She hasn’t the time to wait for a search warrant when the reality that the thief will be stupid enough to continue using her computer without disengaging her GPS program is slim to none. No, it’s her moment to punish those who believe they’re above the laws of human decency.
Well, it’s always good to have backup too just in case. And who better to fill that role than her neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), someone who is even more socially awkward than her? This is where the film moves from comical insights dripping in social commentary holding a mirror up to Trump’s world of xenophobic and selfish entitlement to one of infectious absurdity. Introverts everywhere can relate to Ruth’s frustration and the situations she finds herself in that prove little more than her banging her head against a wall. We understand the conflict of wanting to do something about it, but not wanting to therefore become the very problem she loathes. She needs someone crazier, more outlandish, and quite frankly weirder to boost her confidence. She needs Tony.
Wood is a laugh riot playing this harmless outcast deluded into believing he’s a badass. Tony listens to death metal as though it’s innocuous elevator music, dabbles in Chinese martial arts (it’s nunchaku not “ninja” weapons), and holds himself to be a selfless man of action when called upon to fight for justice. But it’s all a product of his insular lifestyle, the prowess he thinks he possesses merely a warped sense of expertise that comes from being self-taught without ever testing himself outside of a backyard forum with only Frank his dog to witness. Tony’s heart is in the right place and he’ll do anything Ruth needs if it is in service of good—he is a Christian after all. Desire, however, is not synonymous with skill.
Thus go two hapless suburbanites from a run down neighborhood turned vigilantes reclaiming nostalgia and pride. They use Google and plaster of Paris, frequent the Emergency Room, and do what’s necessary to fight against the tyranny of privilege and disrespect. They celebrate with Kraft cheese slices, forget to fill each other in on everything playing out in their heads, and sometimes even dismiss the other as not doing enough to further their mission. And all the while Blair parallels their escapades with those of the thieves (Devon Graye‘s Christian, Jane Levy‘s Dez, and David Yow‘s Marshall). As Ruth and Tony grow empowered by their success, the bad guys grow curious as to who these nut-jobs are stalking them. Our heroes are not prepared for how dark events turn.
The pair is unforgettably endearing: Lynskey a perfect combination of dissatisfaction, pragmatism, and caution that renders her cutely predictable when measures become too drastic to handle; Wood hilariously deadpan in his distractibility. She often has to make sure he doesn’t fall prey to minutiae while he takes it upon himself to escalate the visual authority they so desperately attempt to project after her soft voice fails to grab their targets’ attention. They’re misfits on the fringes of society constantly beaten down by bullies and a system rigged to leave passive members behind. And in a Hollywood comedy their hijinks would earn laugh-track gags and implausible, “How’d they get out of that one?” close shaves. But in a Saulnier-esque crime thriller under Blair’s watchful eye their actions test fate.
This is ultimately where creative success is earned. All the humor and carefully manufactured scenes of awkward interactions make Ruth and Tony real despite blatant caricature. We feel for their plight and stalwartly cheer them on once easy victories courtesy of blind chance turn to harsh destiny putting their heads in a vice. Blair ensures his trio of villains could exist in more serious fare, their cold-blooded determination to acquire the spoils they seek proving that they’ll kill whoever gets in their way. So even though Christine Woods‘ scene-stealing performance as the connective tissue between them makes us chuckle more than once, the climax pitting them all together will be unpredictably grim. It may not be perfect, but Blair’s entertaining genre hybrid never once lost my full attention.
courtesy of Netflix