The great Melanie Lynskey plays Ruth, a nurse in tune with the rage and frustration all around her: the dying patient whose last words are “Take your gigantic monkey dick out of my good pussy”; whoever’s been leaving dog shit on her front yard; the proudly gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing SUVs on the road; even all the entitled jackholes at the supermarket. In the film’s early scenes, Blair effectively places us in a world where a vague but persistent anger runs rampant. Perhaps more importantly, he allows us to recognize it as our own. As Ruth commiserates with a friend, her language degenerates into a string of fragmented expletives; she could be me watching the news on any given Thursday evening.
After her house gets burgled and the cops prove themselves useless, Ruth begins to channel her rage into an ill-defined pursuit of justice. So she takes matters into her own hands, enlisting the aid of local dorky metalhead and wannabe ninja warrior Tony (Elijah Wood), who also happens to have been the guy who let his dog poop in her yard.
As they go about their investigation — and their spree of vengeance — Ruth and Tony find themselves stumbling into increasingly ludicrous confrontations. But soon enough, we realize that their quest has little to do, ultimately, with retrieving Ruth’s lost possessions. “What do you want?” one character asks of our heroine, trying to figure out what she hopes to accomplish by catching the perpetrators. “For people to not be assholes!” is Ruth’s blurted, anguished response. Even if she can’t quite articulate it, this desperate woman wants nothing less than to mend the world.
And as long as I Don’t Feel at Home… works this blend of spiritual quest and small-scale genre comedy, it works nicely. Lynskey’s shivering rage and Wood’s Zen incompetence play off beautifully against each other, and Blair deftly juggles the suspense, humor and social overtones of his script. You can delight in the symbolism and the wink-wink jokeyness of it all while still being swept up in the story of these characters.
Until, that is, the final 30 or 40 minutes, as the bullets and the bodies and the body parts start flying. Blair settles for genre schlock, and the revelatory film we thought we were watching is replaced by a less interesting, more familiar one. He can’t always match the joyous, purposeful anarchy of the classics that appear to have inspired him: Movies like Blood Simple and Pulp Fiction and True Romance gain complexity as they reach their bloody, chaotic climaxes; in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, that complexity seems to dissipate as the film becomes a catalog of inventive, ludicrous ways to kill or maim people. The shock value of these later scenes occasionally entertains, but I longed to return to the much smarter, funnier, more resonant film I had been watching for the first two acts.