Until its climax, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a surprisingly tender portrait of the jittery uncertainty of depression, and the central performance from Melanie Lynskey is the main reason for that. The actress, who has been gifted here with a rare leading role, is a treasure in the world of independent cinema, and here is another performance to add to an impressive roster that dates all the way back to 1994's Heavenly Creatures. Here, she plays Ruth, a woman stricken with that awful chemical imbalance known as major depressive disorder, in which nothing in the world is truly able to make one happy, and writer/director Macon Blair, in his directorial debut, is wise not to simplify the condition. It is ever-present for Ruth, and it alters her outlook as thoroughly as her mood.
And then, in the universe's ultimate act of rubbing salt in a wound, she is robbed. She returns home one day to find her grandmother's china destroyed and her silver stolen, along with Ruth's laptop and the medication used to alleviate the symptoms of depression. The police are only as helpful as the situation will allow them to be, which is to say that Ruth wasn't helping herself when she appears to have accidentally left her screen door open. Pairing up with Tony (Elijah Wood), her oddball neighbor, Ruth decides to take matters into her own hands, stumbling into some sort of plot devised by Marshall (David Yow), a maniac who wants to steal from the criminal father (played by Robert Longstreet) of one of his lackeys (who are played by Jane Levy and Devon Graye).
The problem here is that Blair's approach is mostly comic, and the dead-serious plot doesn't mesh with that treatment. Ruth becomes a passive observer in what ends up being everything but her story, until the plot requires her to take on a superficially active role. This is another one of those movies in which the climax devolves into meaningless violence, which seems at odds with the film's rather pointed study of life's inherent meaninglessness that dominates its first half. Once the film settles into a routine, though, it loses much of its potency, despite performances that are mostly solid and bloody violence that is well-staged. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is an experience of conflicting halves that merge into something strangely inconsequential.
Melanie Lynskey (Ruth), Elijah Wood (Tony), David Yow (Marshall), Jane Levy (Dez), Devon Graye (Chris Jr.), Christine Woods (Meredith), Robert Longstreet (Chris).
Directed and written by Macon Blair.
No MPAA Rating.
Released on Netflix Instant on February 24, 2017.