It’s hard not to sympathize with depressed and despondent protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) when she declares that all she wants is for, “people to not be assholes”. It’s an easily accessible request in the year 2017 – the year where the world (or perhaps just America) is really starting to figure out that a lot of people are selfish and mean, and most definitely are working in their own self interest. Society’s stinginess seems to have invaded Ruth’s life everywhere from traffic lights, to the grocery store, to even her own front yard where her eccentric, wanna-be ninja, ponytail (or would it be considered a rat-tail? Ah, whatever) sporting neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) lets his dog shit without bothering to pick it up. Ruth is fed up with it and is about on the verge of saying enough is enough.
Cue a robbery at Ruth’s modest and quiet home: she arrives to discover her laptop as well as some of her deceased grandmother’s silver missing. The detectives she calls to the scene don’t seem to be able to do much to help her, particularly with no sign of forced entry. But this is one asshole that has taken it too far, and Ruth is sick and tired of dealing with society’s pricks. She ultimately enlists the help of Tony to track down her stolen property, and ultra-violent, darkly and cynically comedic shenanigans ensue.
You may recognize director Macon Blair’s name if you’re a fan of Jeremy Saulnier’s slick and topical violent escapades – he was both an actor and a producer on Blue Ruin and Green Room. He borrows a lot from his buddy for his debut feature, sure; there are sequences of extreme violence and a collection of vicious sociopaths for our mismatched heroes to go up against, but Blair sets it up against primarily comedic backdrops (I’ve already seen plenty of comparisons to the Coens as far as tone and I can’t say I disagree, if maybe IDFAHITWA plays a bit darker), making this primarily a dark comedy. This is sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, every now and then succumbing to that rather insufferable Sundance quirky type filmmaking that seems to be very in these days (a scene of Wood’s character eating nothing but a square of pre-cut cheese elicited a personal groan).
However, it’s unfortunate that this movie has been sidelined to being solely an under-marketed Netflix release (this shit won the Grand-Jury prize at Sundance!), as Blair makes his case as a promising director to look for in the future, no question. He crafts a comically bleak and all too tangible world of people who lack fundamental empathy and makes us recognize ourselves in Ruth. We’ve all been the person helplessly pondering how people could be just so greedy, but he flips it as well. When does us complaining about how everyone’s selfishness sucks turn into us being selfish for complaining for what is comparatively a small issue in regards to what someone else may be going through? It’s a tough question that I’m not even sure Blair has the answer to – the thematics never get a full resolution by the end, instead divulging into a fairly traditional (if well-executed) crime caper finale that ends up being more about Ruth’s and Tony’s newfound friendship.
Not to say that’s totally a bad thing either. There is certainly fulfillment to be had in the idea of surprising companionship in a world so full of dismay, and perhaps maybe that’s the real resolution after all. When so many people continuously try to kick you while you’re down, I suppose it’s only natural for solace to be found in the one person that’s trying to pick you back up.