“I just want people to not be assholes.”
It’s the theme of I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, directed by Macon Blair, and something the film’s heroine Ruth (a pitch-perfect Melanie Lynskey) utters more than once. She’s a woman surrounded by assholes, doing her best to ignore them. Suffice it to say, this is a thoroughly relatable picture. People don’t pick up after themselves. They cut in line. They willingly spoil endings to others without another thought.
Ruth drinks too much and mostly keeps to herself, until somebody breaks into her house and steals her laptop and some silver passed down from her dead grandma. It’s a bridge too far, and the result is a sometimes-silly, sometimes-violent, mostly-hysterical form of vigilante justice. If the police will do anything, she will become a very amateur detective with a very amateur sidekick.
Cue Elijah Wood as Tony, Ruth’s excitable neighbor, who joins in her search to find her belongings. In so many ways, this feels like the role Wood has been waiting to play for some time. The man is comfortable being being comfortably weird, and the laughs garnered from many of his small moments (particularly one at an antique shop) are worth the price of admission.
This is a directorial debut for Blair, a longtime actor who got his break in Jeremy Saulnier‘s thriller Blue Ruin a few years back, following it up with a nice turn in Green Room and upcoming roles in the films of Steven Soderbergh, Sean Baker, and E.L. Katz. He’s got a confident hand here, utilizing his two leads to the maximum along with his own screenplay, which takes most scenes in an unexpected direction. No character is one thing in this film. And for as ridiculous as some of the engages get, most of it feels truer to life than one might expect. Consider one scene in which Ruth and Tony confront the group that now has her laptop. Initially tense, the moment releases into something a bit funny, weird, and refreshing.
Ultimately, Lynskey’s performance is the thing that grounds the film in its more extreme moments. We know this person, sympathize with her, root for her. She’s been an indie stalwart for years, and watching her lead a picture like this is a highlight all its own. David Yow, Jane Levy, and Devon Graye do solid work as some of the dumbest criminals alive, though their capacity for violence maintains a sense of fear. Who knows what these kind of people can/will do?
The film loses form a bit as it lumbers towards its final moments, but the juice is worth the squeeze. All involved here are determined to find the laughter in the pain of dealing with other people. And if there must be blood, so be it. In so many ways does it feel like the right movie for the oncoming year. Things are bad and they might get worse, but maybe we can laugh and fight and get through the day.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released on February 24 on Netflix.