I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Director/Writer: Macon Blair
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, Jane Levy
A review by Thanh Nguyen
There are two kinds of people in the film I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore: those who are just plain assholes, and those who pretend not to be assholes through a transparent veneer of feigned politeness and fake niceties. While there is plenty of the former on display within the film, it is the astute observation of the latter that highlights the hollow nature of human interactions. A subversively screwball take on the crime/thriller genre, Macon Blair’s debut feature taps into the way in which social manners and conventions are often rendered meaningless in a world full of selfishness, violence, and chaos.
On the road to this realization is Ruth, a meek and misanthropic nurse whose lonely days are punctuated by unpleasant encounters with others. From a foul-mouth patient to someone constantly leaving dog crap in her yard, every moment of her life serves as an incessant reminder of how awful people are. Played by Melanie Lynskey, Ruth’s mild-mannerisms and painstakingly polite demeanour in the face of these personal offenses are captured so naturally and intuitively by the New Zealand-born actor that the audience’s heart can’t help but ache a little when we see her awkwardly struggle to maintain a civil restraint while not letting others use her as a human doormat. Interspersed between zanily-played out scenes are solemn moments of introspection in which Ruth contemplates the meaningless of her life. The moodily-lit cinematography highlights Ruth’s dark feelings of existential dread as much as it tonally lends itself to the neo-noirish atmosphere of the film.
When Ruth’s home gets burglarized, she is further alienated from the fact that the cops are less than keen to help her retrieve her laptop, medication pills, and her dead grandmother’s silverware. Sensing the futility of police bureaucracy, Ruth enlists the help of her eccentric neighbour Tony to act as her “backup” while they go retrieve her stolen items. Played by Elijah Wood, Tony happens to be a rat tail-sporting, heavy metal-listening, God-praying, cheese slice-eating, mace AND Chinese star-wielding kind of guy whose own drawn out list of idiosyncratic characteristics feels a bit too much of an attempt to be quaint.
While Tony’s habits offer a lot of gags throughout the film that our downright hilarious, they often add up to a cartoony character that feels inauthentic, much like many of the other characters that we see. Despite this, one of the best parts of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore stems from the gently burgeoning relationship between Ruth and Tony whose romance are never outrightly presented but interpreted within subtle gestures and social cues that reveal their unspoken bond.
As Ruth and Tony dig deeper into their investigation, the two become embroiled in a situation they are ill-prepared to handle, crossing paths with three petty, but creepy criminals. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore veers towards a chaotic and bloody climax which definitely feels inspired by Blair’s experience as an actor in Jeremy Saulnier’s films Blue Ruin and Green Room – both works which feature realistic and randomized acts of violence clumsily inflicted upon people by those who don’t really know what they are doing. Considering those elements, one can’t leave out the Coen Brothers as another huge reference point for Blair’s film which seemingly draws influences from their work, in particular Blood Simple. However, unlike their work, which shows the ramifications of violence that is irreversible and irredeemable for their characters to a greater extent, Blair’s film suffers from being too conveniently plotted in which characters are pulled out of harm’s way by Deus Ex Machina-like devices. The impression that the film leaves is that it is merely escapism, although entertaining escapism.
See It! As this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner at The Sundance Film Festival, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has the markings of a typical, quirky Sundance film with its atypical pairing of eccentric characters who get themselves into zany predicaments. However, Macon Blair elevates its basic, quirky concept with a refreshing dose of raw violence and real emotional depth that gives a keen insight to the nature of modern alienation. At the end of the film, Ruth’s friend provides consolation for her traumatic experience by saying, “You’ve got all the time in the world”, to which Ruth responds, “I don’t know what that means”. “It’s just something people say”, her friend says. It’s a revealing moment that deconstructs the illusion on human connection and the facile ways we achieve it.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is currently out on Netflix.