The wonderful film “Frances Ha,” as described by co-writer and star Greta Gerwig, was conceived as an amalgamation of everyday moments, like deciding whether or not to pay a fee to use an ATM. The result is a film rich in humanity, a measured dissection of an average individual as she struggles to navigate her newfound adulthood.
Many of those same emotions — those familiar beats, not from our movie history but from our actual history — are given their due spotlight in “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” the debut directorial effort from actor Macon Blair (“Green Room”) that premiered this January at the Sundance Film Festival, won its top prize (an honor shared by the likes of “Whiplash,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Precious”), then was unceremoniously dumped onto Netflix, its distributor. But the film is worth more than its lackluster distribution indicates. “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is a darkly funny and gritty action movie, one that takes left turn after left turn with total confidence — and with great payoffs.
If “Portlandia” did “The Big Lebowski” with Phyllis and Dwight from “The Office,” this film would be the outcome. Ruth Kimke (Melanie Lynskey, “The Intervention”) is the hero we neither deserve nor expect — a depressed nurse’s assistant whose house is burglarized and, disturbed by the police’s intransigence, becomes a vigilante, obsessed with restoring some semblance of justice and order in this cruel, chaotic world. Her best friend’s husband provides no assistance, so she recruits the help of an off-kilter neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood, “The Trust”), who himself has no friends and who tries a bit too hard in everything he does. The guy, after all, is quick to wield his pair of nunchucks at the slightest provocation.
Though Wood is more attention grabbing, it’s Lynskey’s performance that buoys the film. She’s just so much fun to watch. Every sigh slightly tinged with disgust, every scrunch of the face to digest what idiotic nonsense someone else says or does — Lynskey is everyone who has ever wondered why people truly are the worst. But Lynskey never has to suck it up or go on about her day. She’s the hero in a revenge fantasy that feels all the more satisfying when she gets her way, often by force.
The magic of Blair’s film isn’t limited to its two leads. Every character, even those whose time on screens lasts not five minutes, is instantly memorable: An elderly secondhand goods salesman who looks on the verge of death but can still pull off some martial arts, a police detective whose divorce-stricken grief takes control of his life, a bored housewife who could probably recite Betty Friedan by heart. Cinematographer Larkin Seiple recreates his genre-bending skills from last year’s surprise summer indie hit “Swiss Army Man” to form a kinetic style that constantly adapts to the film’s quickly changing moods.
Blair’s film is not just Ruth’s story: It’s a quintessentially modern American story — a Portlander’s fairy tale and an engaging slacker film that’s (fortunately for those like myself, bored by what one may consider the artificiality of Richard Linklater’s film) not like “Slacker” at all.