The word ‘underdog’ comes from the blood sport of dogfighting. It was how people addressed the loser of the fight. While discussing the two-legged, it’s what you call those who’re unlikely to win. Underdogs are often tasked with beating herculean odds, just to get a foot in the doggy door. It’s easy to support them. Their victories make the world look less like a hellhole that exclusively rewards bad behavior.
But sometimes, they let it go to their heads. Having found what they’ve been looking for, they become too big for their britches. You may have seen these underdogs in movies. In Act 1, they suffer. Act 2 sees them swinging for the fences. Act 3 has them coming out on top. In Act 4, they behave uncharacteristically. Finally, in Act 5, they discover the value of humility.
In Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, you meet Ruth and Danny, two underdogs, in the middle of Act 2. But the world isn’t piling up the odds against them. It’s their own doing. Ruth’s a nursing assistant, who suffers from hemophobia. Danny isn’t half as self-aware as he’s knowledgeable of Kung-Fu. They make things hard for each other too, constantly butting into each other’s businesses. They don’t come across as Sisyphean caricatures because they really seem to enjoy doing stuff together.
Ruth and Danny are like Bonny and Clyde. Instead of robbing banks, they fight the drudgery of their lives by reclaiming the things they lost. Even if it means throwing shurikens at strangers. It’s like they don’t care about Act 3.
Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood are fantastic in their roles. They communicate vulnerability so unapologetically that you forgive whatever their characters do. Even when they beat up an old man, you clench your buttocks, uncomfortably, and tell yourself they had no other choice.
In one scene, a woozy Ruth asking Danny, “Why are we here…in this world?”. Danny looks at her, smiling, and replies, “Trying to be good.”
Seconds later, he adds, “Or be better.”
Ruth’s high on meds, so she ignores him and looks away.
That’s what separates the underdogs in I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore from other detached yet vulnerable and lovable losers in indie movies.
They make sure you don’t care about Act 3 either.