If you know who Macon Blair is, it’s probably from his acting in Jeremy Saulnier’s films Blue Ruin and Green Room. Blair’s directorial debut, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, feels a bit like Saulnier’s work at times in its visual style, cynicism and penchant for brutal violence. Where it differs is in its quirky humor and in how sweet it is.
Our heroine, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), is clinically depressed and has just had a very bad day. It’s put her through a vulgar old woman dying at her work, some jerk cutting her off in the grocery store line, some other jerk spoiling a major plot twist in the fantasy series she’s reading (Blair’s cameo), not to mention a pile of dog poop on her lawn, right in front of the “NO DOG POOP” sign. To top it all off, she comes home to find she’s been robbed. The place is trashed and the culprits have taken her meds, her laptop and her granny’s silverware. The police, as you might expect, aren’t much help. “Make sure you lock your back door from now on.”
Ruth’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day sparks an existential crisis. Why are people so awful? Why is the world like this? What’s the point when we all die and end up in the void in the end? All good questions, I’d say, but not healthy fixations for someone in Ruth’s emotional state. Thank goodness for technology. Whoever has her laptop finally starts the thing up, triggering her “Find My Computer” phone app. With five-oh useless to her, she finds a new purpose in life and enlists her neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) as muscle in going after the robbers.
I mentioned that this film is “sweet,” and most of that sweetness radiates from Wood as Tony. He’s your classic redneck nerd. The type of dude who lifts weights in his back yard and plays with his nunchaku (not “karate sticks” as Ruth calls them). He’s awkward and unpredictable and friendless, but he has a heart of gold. He feels obligated to join Ruth in her vigilantism, not just because of his obvious affection for her or his moral outrage at the criminal act, but because it was his dog who pooped on her lawn. He’s a living counterpoint to the obstacle course of douchery that Ruth has to navigate every day; a shuriken-slinging Jiminey Cricket and friend and partner in crime and love interest. The odd couple vibe is a lot of fun and their relationship is really what makes the film work.
While it would have been fun to just see the two of them hang out more, this isn’t that kind of film. Whether it’s over your dead wife’s dog or your grandma’s cutlery, vengeance doesn’t always work out the way you expect. Ruth’s goals are to get her stuff back and verbally confront the culprits: to tell them they that can’t do this kind of thing to people (“Anyone can do anything if you let them,” replies a peripheral character). It’s a rather naive and harmless goal for a vigilante, but it has numerous bloody and unintended consequences. The existence of those consequences seems important to the film, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s nailed down properly. Ruth’s response to her troubles is a fist raised in defiance of everyday cruelty and disregard for humanity, but if she had stayed home instead there wouldn’t be quite as many bodies in the morgue when the credits roll.
The movie briefly asks the question of whether Ruth is still a good person despite all the things she’s done (home invasion, theft, assault, impersonating an officer), but its heart doesn’t seem to be into addressing it. Is it even possible to be a good person in “this world,” full as it is of assholes? Not every question a film asks should be answered, but there’s a difference between ambiguity and being half-baked, and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore feels more like the latter.
That said, in nearly every other regard, the film is… fully baked? Properly baked? It’s baked. It’s funny and charming and exciting. Lynskey and Wood are excellent and have tons of chemistry. The cinematography by Larkin Seiple (Swiss Army Man) is unexpectedly beautiful at times and as a whole the movie’s well crafted. It’s an extremely promising first film from Macon Blair, and I look forward to what he brings us next. If you’re in the market for a quirky crime-revenge-comedy-romance with a lot of blood (Who isn’t?), you won’t go wrong here.