Run Time: 104 Minutes
Director/Writer: Miranda July
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins
By Simon Whitlock
Director and writer Miranda July’s filmography to date has contained a through line of characters suffering an emotional longing, combined with more than a touch of the whimsical. This has given July’s work an entirely singular aesthetic which seems to put those who have seen her films into one of two camps: those who are enchanted by them, or those who find July’s style particularly irritating.
July’s latest, “Kajillionaire”, sees her carrying straight ahead in her now signature style, and so is not likely to change much for either party. The film tells the story of Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), a twenty-something woman who lives and works with her parents (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins) as thieves and con-artists in Los Angeles. Old Dolio has for her whole life only ever been used as a playing piece in her parents’ efforts to become rich – her name came from a homeless man who won the lottery, in a vain attempt to get some of his newfound money from him – and the closest thing to love and affection she’s ever received from her parents is the even share she gets of their con jobs.
“Kajillionaire” is at its most compelling when focussing directly on its characters…July is a terrific writer of character though and the acting talent she has available here get stuck right in.”
This life of subservience to her parents’ life of crime is put under threat by the arrival of Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), who first encounters the family during a flight to New York and is quickly taken into their small band of grifters, potentially to gain her trust to swindle her as well in the future. It’s Rodriguez who is the driving force of the film’s story, as she begins to realise the truth of the family’s dynamic, and of Old Dolio’s quietly growing desperation for even a bit of tenderness, which builds to a quite literally earth-shaking crescendo late into the film.
The dynamic between Wood and Rodriguez’s characters is very sensitively developed over the course of the film, and Wood’s performance is a fantastic balancing act between a facade stuck in a grumpy adolescence and a timidness borne of a growing closeness to Rodriguez’s Melanie.
“Kajillionaire” is at its most compelling when focussing directly on its characters, something which it admittedly struggles to do before Rodriguez arrives on-screen around half an hour into the film’s running time. Things falter when July indulges her more fanciful ideas, such as the family’s living space being overrun with bright pink froth from the neighbouring bubble factory. July is a terrific writer of character though and the acting talent she has available here get stuck right in. Rodriguez is the star of the piece, and the ever-brilliant Winger and Jenkins as Old Dolio’s parents give their roles a disarmingly charming depth, which makes characters that could very easily have descended into the ridiculous feel almost justified in how they’d raised their daughter.
There is much to enjoy in “Kajillionaire” for those who can overlook the more egregious excesses of July’s flights of fancy, and Old Dolio’s journey towards a more loving, empathetic relationship central to her life offers a cathartic, hopeful perspective on modern life. Given the way 2020 has gone so far, it’s an outlook which is more in need by the day.