Until recently, Macon Blair has been best known as a frequent collaborator with childhood friend Jeremy Saulnier, who directed Blair in Blue Ruin and Green Room. Both films became festival darlings, due in part to their visceral non-festivalness. (A friend here at Sundance recently told me that after a week of festival movies, he’s going to binge on Vin Diesel movies.) But they also a lot to winning performances by Blair, who even garnered a few acting award nominations along the way (probably not as many as he deserved). This year, Blair is striking out on his own, in Park City this week for the premiere of I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, a movie he wrote and directed.
The film stars Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness, Away We Go, etc) as Ruth, a depressed woman beaten down by the many mini-tragedies of modern living, mostly that the world seems to be full of assholes. One day her house gets burglarized, and the thief gets away with all her electronics as well as a box of trinkets from her grandmother, items with little monetary value but much sentimental value. Upon realizing that the police force is full of, you guessed it, more assholes, she strikes out on a mission to find her stuff, enlisting her eccentric neighbor, Tony, played by Elijah Wood, whom she met when his dog shit on her lawn and who has a fine collection of nunchucks and ninja stars.
At Home shares, as you might imagine, some similarities with Jeremy Saulnier’s films, on which Blair served as a close collaborator. Like Green Room and Blue Ruin, but even more so, At Home seems almost actively hostile to the idea of genre, shifting from indie comedy to dark comedy to thriller from scene to scene. One minute we’re meeting a quirky cop or a loopy trophy wife, the next someone’s dying graphically in a hail of bullets. At Home combines both gore and shit jokes. Ruth and Tony’s search for her stolen stuff, which feels a little mumblecore — quirky characters, wry observations, naturalistic dynamic — eventually brings them up against a cultish gang of crackheads. David Yow of The Jesus Lizard plays the leader, commanding a sociopathic twink (Devon Graye) and a Squeaky Fromme-esque fanatic (Jane Levy). Their world is dark and lurid, but also occasionally comedic.
At Home is much more a comedy with a theme (why are people such assholes?) starring a protagonist given to existential pondering (does any of this matter?) than Saulnier’s strictly plot-driven affairs, but it also descends into some of the same goose chases (and violence and gore). The tone shifts are certainly jarring, where you’re trying to reconcile mumblecore with Scooby Doo crime solving, drug addiction and murder. At some level this feels like Blair trying to entertain himself — and I always enjoy a filmmaker who can make me feel his glee vicariously even if I’m not entirely invested in the reality of a scene (Shane Black and Niall Blomkamp are two other directors that come to mind). But at another level, the tone shifts seem to have a specific purpose, which is why I think At Home ultimately works despite being a little disjointed and goofy as hell (and having minor characters who are frequently two degrees too quirky, which I think is kind of an actors-directing thing).
Normally when a protagonist wonders what it all means, we’re asked to navel gaze with them. At Home seems to say “This is what you’re worried about? I’ll give you something to worry about.”
It’s a fun twist. And Netflix, where At Home is scheduled to premiere February 24th, seems like the perfect place for it. Where it doesn’t have to fit into a proscribed box for marketing purposes in the hopes of a huge opening weekend, and where people can, as Blair puts it, “discover it on their own time.”
I sat down with Blair (who I’d met a few years back on a shotgun trip at Fantastic Fest — Keanu Reeves was also there, name drop name drop — and who I’ve spoken to a few times) this week from Sundance, where we talked about his transition into full-time film employment, directing his first film, and being festival famous.