On one hand, Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a film about existential crises — those small and decidedly uncinematic moments that begin to creep in from the edges as your 20s crumble into your 30s and then into the fine dust of middle age. For depressed single woman Ruth Kimke (Melanie Lynskey), mortality becomes an even greater sticking point due to its close proximity: She’s a nursing assistant, which affords her a front-row seat to the inelegant realities of death.
When we first meet Ruth, she’s tidying up a patient’s room while the old lady grumbles something about dicks and suddenly dies. She then goes home to find that someone has broken into her house and stolen her laptop, along with her grandmother’s silverware. Some might call that a bad day, but for Ruth, it’s the final piece in a puzzle that allows her to see the world for what it truly is: a festering, meaningless hellscape filled with assholes and lacking even a shred of common courtesy. It’s difficult to find purpose in such a place, but Ruth’s demands are simple: “For people to not be assholes!” Anyone who’s paid close attention to the news lately will find something cathartic and relatable in that sentiment (as well as in the film’s unwieldy title).
Feature-length films generally aren’t nimble enough to reflect the current zeitgeist with such uncanny accuracy, but Blair’s neo-noir-comedy-thriller is that rare story that seems to have come along at just the right time. Lynskey’s understated yet masterful performance turns Ruth into a sort of everywoman that most Americans will be able to relate to in the early days of 2017. She’s just trying to live her life and not actively hurt anybody in the process, but everywhere she looks there’s a raised pickup truck churning out pollution, a barroom dolt who doesn’t think twice about spoiling the ending of her fantasy book, and a petty thief ready to make off with her grandmother’s last remaining heirloom, for Christ’s sake. That foul odor you just picked up on is an unmistakable whiff of Trump’s America.
Thankfully, however, I Don’t Feel at Home refuses to stay grounded in the logic of the real world for too long. Presented with the cold, hard evidence of a world that doesn’t love her back, Ruth takes the supernatural step of actually fighting back, disregarding things like safety and consequences in her quest to restore some semblance of justice to the world. She enlists a neighborhood loner named Tony (Elijah Wood) to help her in her karmic crusade, which quickly devolves into a series of comic mishaps that include busting into a drug den, punching an elderly pawn broker in the face, and stealing a rich lawyer’s lawn tiger in what might be the most hilariously random act of retribution ever set to film.
Along the way, Blair, in his directorial debut, proves his talents versatile and his tastes eclectic. It’s immensely difficult to pin down just what this film is, as Blair begins in the familiar universe of the indie comedy but swiftly shifts his dialect to horror and revenge fantasy, resulting in a kind of hybrid genre that allows him to gleefully toy with his audience’s expectations. Blair’s close personal relationship with indie-horror director and childhood friend Jeremy Saulnier has obviously rubbed off on his style, as I Don’t Feel at Home presents violence and gore in the same shocking, offhand fashion we saw last year in Saulnier’s Green Room, another film that deftly weaves its way between genres. He has a special kind of fun with Ruth, painting her as a cross between Pam from The Office and The Bride from Kill Bill — someone who can harrumph her way into a shootout and somehow be the only one left standing.
Most of us have a little bit of Ruth in us, though most of us would also probably just file the police report and get on with our lives. For this reason, I Don’t Feel at Home is both fantastic and fantastical, offering us a peek into a strange reality in which we don’t accept life’s constant barrage of shit as inevitable. The real world has no shortage of assholes, no shortage of reasons to question whether it’s worth plodding through days and years only to die while grumbling something about dicks. But the real world could use a few more Ruths.