Tripping on painkillers prescribed to provide relief for her broken finger — an injury sustained during a confrontation with a surprisingly spry old man at a shady consignment shop selling her stolen family heirlooms — Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) and Tony (Elijah Wood) discuss the universe and their place in it.
Tony, hopeful and happy to have someone to talk to, thanks Ruth emphatically for taking him along on her journey. Ruth, nearly defeated and at her threshold for all of the punishment life has to offer on this meaningless road to nowhere, tells Tony she wants to die.
These are the kind of moments that black comedy/thriller “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” delivers on again and again. Quiet moments of loneliness give way to ridiculous scenes of such over the top violence that you can’t help but laugh. Soon you realize you’re not only laughing at the hyperbolic situations of the movie, or Ruth and Tony’s touchingly awkward conversations, but at its deeper message; That life is meaningless, and by confronting that fact we realize all we need to survive it is someone to be by our side, sharing in its nebulous mundanity.
From the very first moment, Ruth is simple to understand. The embodiment of adult loneliness, she stands in her backyard staring at the night sky, stars swirling as she sips a cheap light beer, she listens to the laughter of her neighbors for a moment before turning in for the night.
Ruth is in a rut of near permanence. Living alone, depressed and working as a nursing assistant, she is constantly being treated like a doormat by just about everyone she meets. Lynskey toes a line in her portrayal of Ruth, making her pathetic yet relatable, an underdog worth rooting for rather than simply being pitied.
One day, Ruth returns home to find that her home has been robbed. Shaken, violated and tired of being pushed around, Ruth finds new found meaning to life as she takes to finding the delinquents that stole her prized possessions.
She is joined on her adventure by Tony. If Ruth is the embodiment of adult loneliness, Tony is the personification of lonely adolescence that never flowered into a man. Playing another loveable weirdo with a heart of gold and some troubling tendencies, Wood provides the perfect number two to Lensky’s Ruth. They are a duo more dynamic and interesting than most, drawn together by their loneliness, they bond over a newfound purpose and give each other what they have been seeking for a long time; someone with which to share their hopes and fears.
Director Macon Blair and Director of Photography Larkin Seiple accent Ruth’s loneliness via wide, empty frames throughout the movie.
The empty space makes Ruth seem so much smaller than she could be, leading us by the nose to face how small we are in the grand scheme of things. No matter what we do, Ruth says, we all end up as carbon.
The empty frames pair with deep contrast lighting and low-sunlight shots, giving the film a serious tone, casting a shadow on the levity of the film’s first two acts.
Further heightening comes in the form of a cult-like group of thieves, led by David Yow’s slimy, incompetent Marshall and comprising of Christian, played by Devon Graye and the unhinged Dez, played by Jane Levy. This motley crew shine in the final moments of the film, and only reinforce our need for acceptance, showing the ugly and twisted side in the process.
One of the film’s great accomplishments is the gray morality of the world it exists in. Many of the people Ruth strikes out at once she has had enough, including Tony, do not turn out to simply be villains waiting to be unmasked.
Offering the most realistic moments, these confrontations usually lead to Ruth discovering that these “perpetrators” are just trying to get through the day, having their own struggles on their minds, more often than not having been equally beaten down by the universe.
Ruth’s Campbellian adventure teaches that no matter how awful or mundane things get, it’s the people we choose to share our lives with that matter more than the moments themselves. Blair packages this lesson in a fantastic tale of absurdity that is as funny as it is thrilling.