Melanie Lynskey has more appeal in her left thumb than, say, Jennifer Lawrence post 2016 Golden Globe win because her everywoman charms are so easygoing.
Whereas Jennifer Lawrence is movie star beautiful, an earner of $46 million per year, and, arguably, the most famous actress in the world, Lynskey, who looks like your favorite middle school teacher, doesn’t have to assure us that she’s as stereotypically “normal” as a friendly neighbor. Naturalism comes easy for an actress of her stature because she’s all acting muscle and no done-up flash – never for a second do we feel as though we’re watching a superstar pretending to be as real as you or me. In many of her performances, Lynskey is so convincing as an average Josephine that we sometimes forget that she’s one of the most talented character actresses working today.
While most of the parts she’s undertaken in her long career have usually required her to be a colorful supporting character (and sometimes even the best thing in a subpar film), 2017’s “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” an off-kilter, comedic crime thriller, allows her to lead the way as an ordinary woman forced to be extraordinary after her life goes from mundane to dangerous in an unpredicted snap.
The film, serving as the writing and directing debut of Macon Blair, is sometimes slight and is maybe even too tonally unwieldy to work soundly. But Lynskey is ceaselessly amiable, and there’s an undeniable joy in seeing her channel Charlie Bronson like it’s no big deal.
In “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” Lynskey is Ruth Kimke, a mild-mannered nursing assistant who loses all sight of herself after her home is robbed. Though only her laptop and her grandmother’s priceless collection of silver have been stolen, Kimke finds herself inching toward a complete breakdown. The police are useless in helping her retrieve the items, and she starts to feel pangs of existential despair the more she thinks about how easily pieces of someone’s identity can be taken. Worst of all, the burglary pushes her to break free of her prison of reticence, and having to overcome comfortable anonymity doesn’t suit her well.
Initially, the movie seems to be headed in the direction of the commonplace character study that sees a seemingly stable character psychologically spiral out of control after something traumatic happens to them. But “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” genuinely surprises the more it develops, the banality of it all suddenly turning explosive after Kimke decides to take matters into her own hands and track down her stolen items for herself. Teaming up with an oddball neighbor named Tony (Elijah Wood), who seems straight out of a Chuck Norris vehicle, she transforms herself into a quasi vigilante but unknowingly gets herself into a shitstorm of trouble when it turns out that the perpetrators are much more dangerous than your usual small-time crooks.
Because it’s a commixture of different genres – social satire, black comedy, revenge flick, action thriller, and crime drama – “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is uneven and varies in its capability to compel (though its off-the-wall humor generally prospers, particularly in the constructing of secondary characters). But Lynskey and co-star Wood are faithfully uninhibited, and one of the film’s pleasures is watching them portray fairly normal characters who have to wear their best action hero costumes in order to stay alive in the midst of the potentially lethal situation they run into.
Many critics are touting “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” as an understated exploration of gender dynamics in the U.S. and maybe even a commentary regarding the societal angers to have come along in the face of the recent election. Perhaps Blair is going for some sort of cinematic reflection of the times. So maybe I’m shallow in my viewing of the feature – even in the aftermath of its 96 minutes, I continue to see it merely as an unhinged, curious take on the revenge movie. And it’s likely that you’ll best enjoy it filtered through that lens, too.