I need more movies with the soul that I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has. That was the second thing I thought after the credits starting rolling.
Truth be told, I just need more movies with absolute soul residing inside the bones. I think we all do, don’t we? There’s that steady gap that can be conflicting and dragging at times. Even though this came out last year, the purpose of Netflix Weekly is to explore everything the streaming conglomerate has to offer regardless of its release date. They had a fine year that was 2017 (hello, Mudbound). Truth be told, cinema in general had a fine year, while a lot of us didn’t. Maybe the films of 2017 will be the things to keep us going into 2018. I know that they will for me. But I digress.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has a plot that you can drop on the table like a slab of meat: Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is an assistant nurse in a world that’s given up around her. She’s grown sick and tired of the populous. To paraphrase a line in the film, she just wants everyone to stop being assholes. But there’s no chance in that. From entitled douchebags to racist patients, she’s just about done with it all. Then one day her house gets robbed, and when the cops and lead detective show little interest in helping her out, she snaps…in a sense. Through a series of events, she enlists the help of one her neighbors, an odd loner named Tony (Elijah Wood), and the two of them go on a quest to track down the thieves that took her stuff and find some sort (any) sort of redemption. It’s just unfortunate that what they find is the exact opposite of that.
This is an exciting directorial debut for actor Macon Blair. He’s been featured in every one of Jeremy Saulnier’s films. I know great acting doesn’t necessarily translate to great directing, and to assume so easily would be foolish. But have you seen the Blue Ruin? The man gives a brilliant performance that’s layers upon layers of heartbreak and suffering. He plays a character that goes down a trail of absolute violence with the most broken of hearts. It’s gut-destroying. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that performance while watching Blair create a different kind of character. Going off his own original script, the direction in this is harrowing and powerful. Every choice in each scene and song selection is like a signature being born live. It’s as if he took his whole acting experience and molded it into a ball of vision made out of blood, sweat and tears. One aspect I wasn’t quite expecting though, is Blair’s sense of humor. It’s glorious. There’s a scene in the film where Ruth and Tony pay a visit to the family of one of the burglars, and it easily ranked as one of my favorite scenes of last year. It’s deep, but also hilarious.
Enlisting veteran performers like Lynskey and Wood is also a key move. After finishing the film, the first thing I asked myself (out loud, mind you) was why didn’t we have more Melanie Lynskey-starring vehicles? She broke out in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures, and yes, she’s set up a strong career as a supporting character, but come on. She absolutely kills in this role. She plays to her strengths as a soft-spoken observer, and then morphs into this entity that’s magnificently angry. Lynskey’s performance is just like the film: funny at times and dazzling with raw emotion for the rest. Pairing her up with Wood is a tremendous choice. Being an ultimate chameleon that he is or has become, his filmography is one that gets me giddier and giddier. I want to see him do everything and anything, and in this film you can tell he’s having a blast. From being a “master” weapons expert (that goddamn throwing star) to being a “master” hacker (okay, as I typed that part I started laughing again), Wood is a scene-stealer here, and the seemingly brief-but-impactful chemistry he has with Lynskey is infectious.
I mentioned earlier that I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a force with raw emotions. This is what I mean: it sincerely feels like Blair wrote the screenplay with a starting point of a real-life experience (he went through similar events when his apartment was broken into), and ventured off into the rest of it based on pure emotion. It’s literally whatever he was feeling at that moment, regardless of structure or anything else. He took his story, called up Lynskey & Wood, grabbed a camera, and filmed the whole thing on–you guessed it, pure emotion. And somewhere along the way, all that emotion turned into a brutal, punched-up soul that just refuses to give up on doing what is right. The film is so impactful the side of couch hates me now, from the palm slaps due to laughter, and the hitting due to some of its shocking moments. I don’t think the film is aiming for social commentary or trying to be an indie darling, I genuinely think Blair took all the steps he felt appropriate to make his directorial debut showcase about what he’s made of on the inside. How wonderful is it that cinema can be that kind of vessel for someone? A platform for how our soul can be under these circumstances. We don’t see it all the time in the major blockbusters and I’m sure the indie genre has plenty of films with that pedigree in stock (I really need to watch more indie films this year) but what Blair has done with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is provide a fine example of the layer game. I don’t see it that often, and from what I have seen it’s not done all that well.
Do yourself a favor, and watch Blue Ruin, and immediately I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore afterwards. Meet Blair the actor, and Blair the director. It’ll make for a profound double feature.