Women never get to have Falling Down stories. When men are constantly aggrieved and irritated by the world around them, they are martyrs; their subsequent actions, however violent, are morally righteous. They are the avatars of every annoyed man in the universe, every man who secretly believes that he is the only person who sees the fucked-up ways of the world for what they are.
Women don’t get that. When women are put-upon, it’s normalized. That’s just how it’s supposed to be. Women don’t get to lash out, we don’t get to fight back. We don’t get to have our absurd overreactions justified by fiction. We just have to swallow our frustration and be the bigger person. Fiction so often demands women take it and shut up.
So it was nice to see in I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore a story of a woman who gets to push back on her life of aggravations in increasingly silly ways. Melanie Lynskey’s Ruth Kimke makes a suitable embodiment of the pile-up of low-level annoyances so many women endure. She’s quite privileged, obviously, which is sort of the downfall of any Falling Down-esque story. Her life isn’t really that bad. It’s just irritating, and the most privileged people tend to confuse irritation for oppression. But I do genuinely think it plays better with a woman protagonist, because those irritants are genuine and systemic rather than on any individual level. When Ruth is asked what she wants and she desperately responds, “I just want people to stop being assholes,” it’s a cry for help directed not at specific people but at a world designed to make people act obnoxiously towards each other.
I really liked Elijah Wood’s character in this. Besides being a great performance (he kills as the sort of guy who proudly buys ninja weapons on Amazon), he’s used to better effect than I expected. I was worried he would be the male figure of violence and aggression who drags Ruth into his world before she realizes what a mistake she’s made. In point of fact, for all his thrill at committing revenge crime, he’s not a sociopath. He quibbles with her theft of lawn art from the parents of the kid who broke into her house. He’s also not creepily romantically obsessed with her, which was refreshing. He just wants, in his own weird way, to be a good friend to her. It’s nice that Ruth’s vengeance spree is instigated by herself and not a man, and it’s nice that she’s not made to regret trusting him.
This film was a Sundance hit and a Netflix release, truly a two-hit KO for me in most circumstances. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. It’s not as cutesy or cliched as I feared, though it doesn’t quite rise above the level of competence. I can quite clearly imagine the worse version of I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, all twee in its depiction of violence and “subversion of tropes.” I prefer the version we got. It didn’t make much of an impression on me, but there’s plenty to appreciate here.