Green Room was my first exposure to the work of director Jeremy Saulnier, and if you've followed this blog over the past year, you know that I was pretty impressed. The punks vs. Nazis horror film is one of the best thrillers I've ever seen, and despite its grisly content, I've viewed it over and over again. Green Room also served as my introduction to Macon Blair, who plays the controlling, calculating club handler. In a film with great performances from Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart, Blair's focused, surprisingly emotional turn caught me off guard. He immediately had my attention, yet I was oblivious to the fact that Blair had starred in Saulnier's previous film, the similarly gruesome Blue Ruin. Blair is an actor of staggering talent, and the fact that he's finally breaking into the mainstream makes me so happy. He had a small part in the Matthew McConaughey flop Gold, but there's a good chance that 2017 will be his breakout year. He's in Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky, and he'll also star in Sean Baker's The Florida Project.
But perhaps most importantly for his Hollywood status, Blair has made his directorial debut with I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, a clever, immensely fun black comedy. When I heard that Blair was heading into the world of directing, I was intrigued and highly optimistic. After all, he had to have picked up a thing or two from Saulnier over the years, right? But after I Don't Feel won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the film became a must-see. Debuting exclusively on Netflix, Blair's debut establishes him as a whipsmart, darkly comic filmmaker with a penchant for a bit of ultraviolence. Thanks to terrific central performances from Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, I Don't Feel at Home is a lean, mean, and brilliantly entertaining comedy, one that goes into some brutal and delightful directions. It hits all the right notes, and it establishes Blair as a director to watch.
People are assholes. Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) has learned this time and time again. People cut her off in the line at the grocery store, drive like arrogant maniacs, and spoil the end of books. The tipping point for Ruth is when her house is broken into, as a group of burglars steal her grandmother's precious silver. When the cops refuse to spend any real time or energy on her case, Ruth decides to take justice into her own hands. With the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), a kind-hearted, socially awkward neighbor, Ruth goes on a hunt to find her missing silver and bring some sense of decency to the world. But as they delve deeper into the criminal underworld, Ruth and Tony run into some truly unpleasant folks, and things explode into bloody, manic chaos.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a minor film that is totally comfortable with its inherently small scale, and that makes it a relieving burst of fresh air. Macon Blair doesn't shoot for the stars with his directorial debut, and believe it or not, that's a good thing- it allows his distinct voice to shine, and it keeps all of the thematic and narrative power firmly within his reach. Blair is like a funnier, more socially observant version of Saulnier, but even that comparison feels diminutive. He has a unique creative vision of his own, and it's on constant display during the course of this movie. Blair has a talent for making even the most ordinary of encounters seem thoroughly awkward, and there are some scenes in this movie that are truly cringe-worthy. It'd be uncomfortable if you weren't laughing so hard, but Blair's satirical touch makes it all coalesce in an entertaining manner.
I Don't Feel at Home is about searching for decency in a cruel, nasty world, and the fact that the two characters at the center of it are so incredibly likable only makes it more effective. Melanie Lynskey gives an absolutely terrific performance as Ruth, a woman who feels lost in a world of unrefined humanity. She's funny, sweet, and a little naive, but she's a character that everybody in the audience will be able to fully understand. As someone who regularly gets frustrated with people, Ruth struck a chord with me. However, I loved that Blair is never content to let Ruth off the hook for her extreme reaction- her actions have consequences that can often be bloody and tragic. Lynskey is matched by Elijah Wood, who plays a weirdo with a compassionate sense of charm. Tony is clearly off his rocker a bit, but in a way that feels deeply human. The cast is rounded out by Jane Levy, Devon Graye, and Blair himself, who has a clever cameo early in the film.
Blair's screenplay is terrifically funny, crafting warm characters, smart dialogue, and a laidback indie feel with ease. But as I Don't Feel at Home moves closer to its conclusion, Blair's film takes a turn, and things get dark. I'm talking really dark. For all of the social humor and sly satire, I Don't Feel at Home is truly a vicious crime film in disguise, and there's enough grisly violence in the final act to throw audiences for a loop. Blair's sense of humor gives the audience something to relate to, but it's the way it slowly devolves into a blood-splattered gorefest that gives I Don't Feel at Home its true sense of fun. The nasty conclusion certainly won't be for everyone, but it's Blair's commitment to upending genre conventions that keeps this fresh and unpredictable. You never really know where this movie is going, and it's that sense of comic anarchy and savage volatility that makes it memorable.
Because of his career origins, Blair will be compared to Saulnier for the foreseeable future, which isn't exactly fair. Blair doesn't have a knack for masterfully orchestrating tension like the Green Room filmmaker does, but what he does have is an incredibly specific voice, one that contributes to the creation of something as wholly singular as I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. While I can't guarantee that it'll be for everyone, it's safe to say that Blair delivers on all fronts with his debut. This is a funny, dynamic action comedy, led by two great performances from Lynskey and Wood. Just like Jordan Peele's Get Out, I Don't Feel at Home blends genres to great effect and constantly subverts expectations at every turn, while also connecting with its audience on a deeper level. It's not a home run, but it's a smashing success, and I can't wait to see what Blair does next.
THE FINAL GRADE: B (7.4/10)
Images courtesy of Netflix