SENIOR STAFF WRITER
The Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, “I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore,” the directorial debut of frequent Jeremy Saulnier collaborator (“Blue Ruin,” “Green Room”) Macon Blair, is a charming, dark and rapturously entertaining effort, often evoking Blair’s mentor Saulnier, as well as the Coen Brothers.
Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a depressed nursing assistant, comes home from a bad day at work (including an interaction with Blair at a bar where he spoils a book she was reading, only to then immediately leave) to see that her house has been robbed. She gets nowhere with the police, and the following day goes to ask the neighbors some questions. There she meets Tony (Elijah Wood), who is obsessed with nunchaku, heavy metal and shuriken. They then indirectly get involved with a heist.
The specific Coen Brothers films Blair is evoking are “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski.” The usage of dark themes meshed with a lot of farcical humor is often evocative of what the Coens will refer to in films like those. Oftentimes, it seems to have “quirky indie comedy syndrome” (think “Garden State” or “Jeff Who Lives at Home”), but it never goes too far overboard. The film is funny, but it is a crime picture first.
The acting is capable, with Wood as the standout. His Tony often carries shades of many Nicolas Cage characters, offbeat and weird, but never once stepping over the line into becoming irritating. Wood is a strange actor, in that he often reinvents himself. Wood, or his role on “Wilfred” are indistinguishable from, say, Frodo Baggins. It’s just interesting that he started as a lead when he clearly seems to be more comfortable as a character actor.
Melanie Lynskey is affable and charming as Ruth, for those who may not know of her, she start-ed out alongside Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” and her most recent and well-known effort would be her role on the HBO show “Togetherness.” She has a likability and relatability to her though, one that might encourage people to look through her oeuvre.
Blair started out much like Saulnier, the two were childhood friends and both frequent consumers of movies and film. Blair is accustomed to playing roles in the background, as, before this he mainly acted in Saulnier’s three films and other small projects. The Coen comparison comes into play once again, and this can be said about “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room” as well. He has a screen presence that reminds one of frequent Coen collaborators Steve Buscemi and John Goodman. As a director, he is similarly content to hang in the background, stating in an interview that he, for the most part, let Lynskey and Wood get to work, as they had 20 years of experience.
“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is slight but a constant delight and a bona fide independent marvel. While Blair is trying a lot of different things, the viewer never feels that the film is disconnected or doing too much. It operates on its personality, and that’s more than good enough.