Apparently Macon Blair’s directing debut “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and people have been raving about it. I’m not sure how it flew under my radar because I have a special place in my heart for “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”, both starring Blair, written & directed by his good friend Jeremy Saulnier*, so when I saw a post on Facebook yesterday saying it’s now available on Netflix I plopped down on the couch to check it out ASAP.
It stars Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a depressed nursing assistant fed up with a world full of assholes, and Elijah Wood as Tony, a neurotic ninja-star throwing vegan Christian warrior. They team up to hunt down the creeps who burgled Ruth’s apartment when the cops refuse to take it seriously. Needless to say, things get out of hand quickly.
Don’t do any more research than necessary. The trailer gives you a general idea of story and style but the more blind you go into it the more fun the experience will be.
Speaking of style, this is a tough movie to pin down – it’s sort of like a funny version of “Falling Down” if directed by Tarantino who’d recently watched a few too many David Lynch films. It has so many influences yet it isn’t reminiscent of anything in particular. The fact that it was able to remind me of so many other films and yet stay original and unpredictable is a testament to Blair’s talent as a writer and director.
At risk of gushing and without giving too much away, here is a non-comprehensive list of things I loved:
The tone: probably a lesson learned from working with Saulnier, the believable, naturalistic feel makes the shocking bits hit their mark with so much more precision and punch.
The setting: shot around Portland but never specified, the story travels from poor small town to rich suburbs to off the grid rural, and Ruth realizes that no matter where she goes, she’s always surrounded by inconsiderate assholes. That’s the world we’re in, I guess.
The cast: everyone involved was amazing, no matter how much or little screen time they received. Wood continues his streak of indie horror films – “Cooties”, “Grand Piano”, and “Maniac” were all good fun, but this is the best of the bunch. The cops were perfectly jaded and unenthused about their job, the bad guys were creepy and layered, several minor characters had scene-stealing lines and reactions. Kudos to the casting director Mark Bennett.
The characters: Ruth is interesting because she’s just a normal, single, working woman waking up to the fact that she doesn’t have to be shit on just because everyone else is terrible. Her mission teams her up with Tony, who is a flawed but loveable loner, someone Ruth would never have wanted to spend any time with had she not got to know him through their adventure. The bad guys – of which there are several – all have believable motivations and exhibit honest emotions. There’s not a cookie-cutter caricature in sight. Every one is real enough that you could bump into them in the street (not that you’d want to) in any town in America.
The dialogue: a direct extension of great characters. There are so many great scenes in this film – almost all of them, really – but the standout to me is probably the “cops” scene, where we’re introduced to older married couple Chris and Meredith (Robert Longstreet and Meredith Woods). The scene eats up a good chunk of the movie’s runtime, and is Tarantino-esque in it’s depth and humor and tension.
The visuals: from the opening shot of constellation Orion to the Rambo-esque finale in the forest and everything in between, this was a beautiful film. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple (“Swiss Army Man”) really has an eye for turning the mundane into something beautiful. Team that up with great production design by Emmy-award winner Tyler B. Robinson who made every set lush and real and you have a great looking movie.
The unsung hero, though, is the screenplay. If anyone has a copy, I’d love to get my hands on it. I’m always amazed when a filmmaker can do so much with so little. In this case, in the first 5 minutes and with very little dialogue, Blair clearly sets up who Ruth is and what she’s about, and then BAM! Her house is robbed and the plot is underway, and every single twist and turn is the result of her decisions (for good or for bad), and every decision is made within character. It was beautiful to watch unfold, and I can’t wait to see what Blair’s got up his sleeve next.
* Side note: if you haven’t read Moviemaker’s interview with Saulnier about the making of Blue Ruin, you’re in for a treat. It’s inspirational stuff, right up with there with Mark Duplass’ “the calvary aren’t coming” speech.