I want to begin Women’s History Month by talking about the rise and fall of #girlboss. Since it’s 2014 popularization by Sophia Amoruso, the concept has gone from aspirational to problematic, paralleling the downfall of Amoruso’s “Nasty Gal” fempire due to allegations of discrimination and eventual bankruptcy.
The topic can be hard to breach, as detractors of the #girlboss want to do so without coming across as anti-feminist. But ultimately the #girlboss trope is a perversion of feminism, using girl power as a facade for gross capitalistic behaviors such as exploiting workers or fostering toxic work environments. But don’t just take my word for it, ask Marla Grayson.
Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson is a being driven by pure greed. She proudly proclaims herself a predator, and embodies the capitalist wolf in feminist sheep’s clothing. She’s got a sharp haircut, a chic wardrobe, and a capacity for BS that so high, that she seems to have even herself convinced that she really cares about the elderly. The film I Care A Lot, directed by J Blakeson, casts the villainous Marla in the position of protagonist, while the villains are those truing to free their elderly parents from her vampiric grip. In the beginning of the film, she boldly assures him he is not intimidated by his masculinity. It’s almost cool until you remember that she is squeezing his elderly mother for money, and letting her wither away in a care home.
“Does it sting more that I’m a woman?” Grayson asks, as she breaks a glass ceiling for women in con artistry.
The turnover of Jennifer Peterson’s (played by Dianne Weist) home in the film is like watching a girl boss ballet. Pike politely smiles, as she swiftly removes the old woman from her home, takes her keys, her phone, and places her in elderly care within a matter of minutes. Marla’s partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) places a knitted blanket on Jennifer’s new twin bed, maintaining some semblance of a woman’s touch.
Pike has proved that this character is her forte. Following her infamous role as Amy Elliot in Gone Girl to now Marla Grayson, it seems as if Pike’s goal as an actress is to consistently test audiences to see how far she can go while still having the audience on her side. Marla may just be the breaking point, but it may also very well be the role that lands her a much deserved Academy Award.
The movie’s plot snowballs towards the conclusion. Suddenly the mob is involved, and Marla is in way over her head. The latter half of the movie is nearly unbelievable, and has drawn some criticism for that very same reason, however it allows audiences to see Marla’s sheer determination: not to save her own life, which she admits to not caring about, but because she really just loves money, and refuses to lose. It was my second time viewing the movie, when I abandoned the need for realism, that I understood the sheer camp nature of I Care A Lot.
Marla is not a real person… right? The answer is not as clear as a simple yes or no. Marla is some amalgamation of everything that is wrong with “woke capitalism”. It’s no mistake Marla is a white woman; it splits her identity between oppressor and oppressed. Or as she would say “lion or lamb”.
But what is the cost of seeing a woman succeed in a man’s world if it means she has not even a shred of integrity left? What if women can succeed in ways that uplift, rather than exploit? I Care A Lot shows the cost in a stunning finale sequence that I dare not spoil.
Marla is single minded in her pursuit of success, and for her there is no middle ground between predator and prey. It’s dark and sadistic, and it’s the reason she won’t quit even after nearly drowning in a locked car. But it’s the kind of behavior that is rewarded in real life. Major corporate empires will virtue signal with one hand only to exploit sweatshop labor and pollute the environment with the other. Think Amazon, think Walmart, think Starbucks, think Nasty Gal.