After seeing the trailer a few months ago I had been eagerly anticipating Miranda July’s latest movie, Kajillionaire (2020). Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez, this quirky and original romantic comedy drama is a unique portrayal of a dysfunctional family and an unlikely bond that forms between an emotionally isolated daughter and a gregarious stranger.
The story revolves around Old Dolio (Wood), a 26-year-old woman who has been raised by her parents Robert and Theresa (Jenkins and Winger) to be an accomplice in their petty thefts and scam artistry. The three spend their time stealing postal items, grifting unsuspecting marks for faux rewards and basically “skimming” as much free stuff as they can at every turn and opportunity. They live in a shoddy office space which they owe lots of rent on and have to avoid their landlord due to the arrears.
This is a highly perculiar and unconventional family that do not want to be part of a society they believe is fake and corrupt. Due to her codenpency on her parents, Old Dolio lives an existence that is unlike any other form of lifestyle, and as she enters into situations that reveal how the rest of society is living, she is visibly confused and equally intrigued. The neurosis that her parents suffer from have been inherited by Old Dolio and the lack of physical intimacy and emotional bonds in her life have turned her into an extremely repressed individual.
Before long, the family meet a young woman called Melanie (Rodriguez) who strikes up a conversation with them during one of their scams. They invite her to join them on their endeavours, secretly plotting to rip her off when the time and opportunity is right. Melanie shows an enthusiasm for their grifting and suggests that the gang rip off a few targets that she is acquainted with. This produces some very amusing and outlandish scenes that evoke hilarity and pathos in equal measure.
Old Dolio is initially jealous of Melanie, particularly the affection and attention that is lavished on her by Robert and Theresa. However, Melanie begins to draw close to Old Dolio and attempts to unravel her emotional knots and twists by fulfilling a list of things that Old Dolio was deprived of by Robert and Theresa, throughout her unconventional upbringing. The two eventually form a deep bond that results in a liberation for Old Dolio, but also costs her the security and familiarity of her life with Robert and Theresa.
Without wishing to give too many plot points or details away, I shall say no more about the story. The performances here are all very solid. Evan Rachel Wood is excellent as the awkward yet highly talented Old Dolio (named after a homeless man that won the lottery, in the hope that he would leave the family some of his fortune in the event of his demise!), her deep voice and rigid physicality are perfectly employed, giving the character a particular depiction of uptight restraint and guardedness that is the result of an extremely unconventional upbringing. Jenkins and Winger both crackle with delusion as the eccentric couple whose depravity knows no depths and Rodriguez truly shines as a beacon of hope and lucid positivity in a jaded world of emotional abandon.
This is a film that is unlike anything else I have seen previously. I have had an interest in Miranda July’s work since seeing You, Me and Everyone We Know (2005) a few years ago. I find her style to be a breath of fresh air in many ways. Her storytelling is engrossing and has a talent for delving into interpersonal relationships in a unique and often hilarious fashion. I acknowledge that my affection for her work is completely subjective and I imagine lots of viewers may not be interested in this kind of quirky and idiosyncratic style of filmmaking. But for me, the action is in the drama and the relationships that develop between her oddball characters, which are both amusing and moving to witness.
This is a film for anyone who enjoys a more indie style of American filmmaking. It has multiple layers and asks a lot of questions about bonds, boundaries and the need for emotional closeness that we all possess to some degree or another. Kajillionaire is about a metamorphosis that witnesses someone coming to terms with a toxic upbringing and attempting to awaken love and intimacy via new found independence and emotional freedom. It is also very funny in places, individual sense of humour notwithstanding. Unique, humorous and highly recommended.
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