I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore is Blood Simple meets Napoleon Dynamite, a darkly comic crime drama with the tone of 1990s American indie cinema (think early Tarantino). A 21st-century Falling Down, Macon Blair’s Sundance-winning directorial debut feels a bit like watching someone mimicking the Coen brothers with a dash of Jeremy Saulnier’s recent thrillers (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Which makes sense, as Blair has played significant roles in the above films from Saulnier, and he seems to channel his influences through his meditation on why the world is just so damn terrible.
At least it appears terrible to Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a depressed youngish single woman who can’t seem to catch a break. She’s not experiencing immense tragedy or suffering, but the little things–dogs pooping in her yard, trucks cutting her off, bar flirtations being spoiled–are adding up, and she’s beginning to ask the bigger questions. Why do we even exist? What’s it all matter, anyway? Why is everyone such an asshole? This latter question, while crass, is deeply theological in nature, and Ruth grows more conversant and open with the divine over the course of her journey. The tipping point for Ruth comes when she experiences a home break-in and her laptop is stolen, prompting her to solicit a quirky nunchuck-wielding neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, perfectly cast) to be her backup as she does some amateur detective work. Using the few clues she has available, Ruth and Tony grow in confidence and camaraderie as they plunge deeper into the criminal world, ultimately finding themselves way in order their heads.
Blair’s direction and the two lead performances ground this film with a sense of sadness that sometimes makes its more comic moments feel less humorous than they should be. The various supporting characters Ruth encounters–an overworked and cynical police detective, an elderly pawn shop owner, an over-friendly Pacific Northwest version of a Southern debutante (the movie was filmed in Portland, OR)–are all funny in their own ways, but never in a strictly comedic sense. Even Tony, with his nunchuks, rat-tail hairstyle, and overt Christian faith, is less an object of ridicule and more of a sympathetic character who elicits more pity than guffaws. The film is funny if you find violent existential crises hilarious. There’s an absurdity to it all, even a sort of fantasy element–especially in much of the final, hyper-violent act–which keeps the film from feeling grounded in reality while still remaining relatable. Even as Ruth makes fun of Tony’s faith in Jesus, she also feels drawn to the church and some sort of Higher Power when everything around her disintegrates. It’s not necessarily faith-affirming, but it’s certainly open and exploring the realm of spirituality, albeit with a dose of cynicism.
I’ve read reviews calling I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore “ambitious” as a filmic debut, but I’m not sure I see it this way. Its themes and formal elements draw too many comparisons to similar films to make it wholly original. It’s never quite as fun or funny as it seems to strive to be, and it can be quite grim and creepy at times, enough to classify it as a thriller. Still, its performances are solid and affecting, and Blair’s direction and storytelling are worthy of admiration. The film never quite fits into any one genre, but perhaps that’s the point; like its main characters, it just doesn’t feel a sense of belonging within the world around it. That feeling can be okay for a season–it’s good to stand out and try to be unique and original every once in awhile–but ultimately we are drawn back into our human need for community, a sense of purpose, and a connection with the divine.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5710514/