I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. (2017)
It feels like director/writer Macon Blair went to school when he was working with director/writer Jeremy Saulnier. This is a wonderful thing for the film title that you should say over and over again until you officially have it memorized, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. It is such a strong start for a director that it's hard not to think about his influences. Thankfully, that can be after enjoying the hell out of this movie.
Everyone's favorite (I swear I haven't met anyone at Sundance who doesn't light up when you say her name), Melanie Lynskey, gives an incredibly strong performance as Ruth. She's a nurse who is sick of the assholes in the world. The film starts with all of the little things that do (or should) drive us nuts about other people happening over and over again to her. You know it's just a matter of time before she snaps. She joins up with Tony (Elijah Wood) after throwing dog shit in his direction. Don't worry, he deserved it. This is the kind of character that seems perfect for Wood, though I can't say I've seen this side of him. He's angry, remorseful, shy, Christian, and ready to punch. Tony ends up being the motivation for Ruth to not take anyone's crap anymore. She doesn't realize the darkness that truly lurks near her.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore keeps turning up a notch, with Blair getting great performances from actors I didn't recognize. There are guns, knives, snakes, and at the center Ruth is having a push and pull with whether she wants to be in this deep or is being dragged down.
When a coach has an assistant or former player do well, the coach is referenced. Blair might have this happen for a while with Saulnier. Who the hell cares? This is good art, and a very strong directorial debut. It's also a title I will (hopefully) remember.
Let's get right down to it: I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. is punk rock, effortlessly cool. It's a movie where if you go in cold, no trailers or reading the synopsis, the chaotic ride is so much grander. It's not secret I'm a huge fan of multi-hyphenate Macon Blair (star of Blue Ruin), but even if is name was not attached to this film, I'd still love it. It's so fucking crazy cool.
I Don't Feel at Home stars the lovely Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going) as Ruth Kimke, who wants people to be nice to each other. She figured out how to be a human before most of the world. It's a harsh world and being kind goes a long way. However, that's not how the things work. When we first meet her, she's aiding one of her patients at a hospital - she's a nurse's assistant - and the patient dies with her in the room. It's a jarring moment, but there's some light humor, as the patient's last words for her family are, well, disgusting.
When Ruth gets home, she discovers her house has been broken into, and some of her most beloved possessions have been stolen. It's safe to say she's having one very bad day. Ruth does have some luck, in one of the strangest ways possible. She becomes friends with her eccentric weirdo neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, who is super fucking hilarious as this character) by throwing his dog's poop at him it left in her yard when he's taking it on a walk. This interaction is where her courage to fight back begins. It's a defining moment for her.
Shortly after, her phone dings to show the location where her stolen computer is now located. She has the correct What the fuck do I do now? expression painted on her face anyone would have in this strange situation. She enlists the help of Tony to get her belongings back, which puts them on an uncomfortable, funny, and inadvertent ultra-violent adventure of retribution. All Ruth wants is to get her stuff back, and for people to try to be good, or better, but if that won't happen, give her her fucking stuff back.
Macon Blair first burst on the scene in Jeremy Saulnier's excellent hyper-violent tale of revenge, Blue Ruin. If you haven't seen this movie, stop what you're doing now, get a copy, and watch it. I'll wait. Done? Cool. You're welcome.
Blair is just as talented behind the camera as he is in front. He's no stranger to writing - he's penned a script and graphic novel, but this is the first time he's sitting in the director's chair. His work behind the camera is staggeringly good. He knows exactly what he wants us to see and feel, and more importantly, he gets real, raw emotions in uncomfortable situations, and understands something about violence that most directors get wrong: it's quick and shocking. (The reactions from a character seeing real violence for this first time is hilarious and bonkers. But it's real. It's how you and I would react.) Blair is a talented fella and can write and direct, that's for damn sure.
As Ruth, Lynskey fills the character with real sympathy for people and wanting everyone to be good, but when she learns there are truly ugly people out there, she takes the role in a quite explosive and fascinating turn. That's why Lynskey is such a wonderful actress. She's unpredictable and her often quiet, nuanced performances never fail to amaze. She's that good.
Almost stealing the show is Elijah Wood. His Tony has spent a lifetime collecting Chinese throwing stars (that do come in handy when thrown correctly) and other Japanese weapons, and masturbating to porn. He believes superheroes are real, and he can be one of them with said weapons with his go-get 'em attitude. He dresses like he still loves the 80s, has a rat tail and wears those big aviator glasses mob bosses wore in the 70s, and pedophiles took up in the 80s. As Tony, Wood is fucking hilarious and awesome. This character is so good; I wish there were a spinoff of him helping people solve problems, one neighbor at a time. I love, love, loooove this character. I've never liked watching Wood on screen more than I did in this movie. He's that good.
If I had to classify I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore., I'd call it a modern suburban noir. There's enough sleaze, bad guys, violence, and mayhem to make it so. It's one of the most fun movies I watched in a very long time, and I'm pumped for Blair's future endeavors as a director.
We all suffer life's little indignities. Sometimes it feels like we're not in the midst of a bad day or a bad week but simply a bad world where we must grind through rudeness, callowness, and the general antipathy from our fellow human beings. Sometimes, we find enough good in our lives to push through, but for those who get crushed under the weight of these cruel cuts, eventually they break. Macon Blair's I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore follows a woman who has reached that breaking point, and it's fascinating to watch her find her inner strength emerge as he indulges her misanthropy. Thankfully, a weird, sweet companion helps bring some warmth to a film that sometimes has difficultly finding the right tone.
Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is deeply unhappy in her life, and reaches a tipping point when her home is robbed. She reaches out to her oddball neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) for help in tracking down her lost stuff after the police prove ineffective. As Ruth begins to step up and fight her own battles, her sense of empowerment leads her down the path of vigilantism, which ultimately finds her to running into the burglar and his crew.
There are times where it seems like Blair has a firm grasp on the story he's telling, but the problem comes when I Don't Feel starts to come off like two completely different stories. Ruth and Tony inhabit a quirky, oddball, slightly dark comedy where Ruth's soft-spoken nature and Tony's eccentricities like using a morningstar and throwing stars as weapons come off as bizarre but captivating. They can be violent, but not in a way that feels dangerous or threatening. The burglars, however, feel like they've come from a far more sinister picture where the threat they pose is real and immediate. Blair wants to blend these two tones together, and it leads to mixed results.
At times, Ruth and Tony's escapades feel endearing, especially when you have such strong performances from Lynskey and Wood. Lynskey remains one of the best actresses working today, able to imbue her characters with both a tangible sadness and surprise humor. Her characters never come off as contrived, but rather they feel lived-in, and her grounded performance is essential to Ruth's quixotic quest and companion. Wood gets the more colorful character, but he never chews the scenery or tries to steal the spotlight. He understands the balance the picture requires, and adds a lot of humanity to Tony.
If the film had remained pitched at Ruth and Tony's level, it would have been stronger and able to keep its momentum, but Blair gets audacious and wants to push them into darker territory. While I admire Blair's ambition, and he's clearly learned some terrific techniques from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blair previously starred in Saulnier's films), he's not quite as sure-handed yet, and the tonal shifts can feel abrupt. At one point, Ruth is having an awkward conversation with a detective, and a few scenes later, a guy is getting his hand blown off. It feels like Blair is reaching for both the darkness and the madness the Coen Brothers have displayed in different films, but comes away with an unsatisfying mixture of the two like Raising Arizona meets No Country for Old Men.
When it keeps the focus on Ruth and Tony, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a satisfying story of two people who have decided that the only way to behave in a mad world is to be a little mad. It's charmingly bizarre and it's a joy to watch Lynskey and Wood at work as well an emerging talent with Blair behind the camera. While it doesn't all come together as well as one would hope, I'm definitely eager to see Blair's next directorial effort.