Written and Directed by Miranda July.
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins, Mark Ivanir, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Ben Konigsberg, Rachel Redleaf, Patricia Belcher, Diana Maria Riva, and Ian Casselberry.
A woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning.
Don’t let the title fool you, as writer/director Miranda July’s latest feature Kajillionaire is more about paying the rent rather than an elaborate Oceans style get rich heist. It’s even less about making money, decidedly taking a third act turn leaning hard into emotional territory where these idiosyncratic characters, especially our lead played by Evan Rachel Wood, tackle their socially maladjusted and lonely lives head-on gradually going through dramatic changes building to what has to be one of the most beautiful endings to a film all year. Kajllionaire is a scam of its own right from its misleading title, although how far removed the film gets from conning and how organically that transition comes about while succinctly hitting its narrative stride is what makes it so special.
Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is the stunted daughter of career criminal parents Robert and Theresa (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger respectively) who appear to have neglected real parental duties her entire life. Robert says Old Dolio learned forgery before writing, then delivers the punchline that she learned how to write from forging; it’s a hilarious but quite sad exchange. Although probably not as sad as the name Old Dolio coming from a homeless man that won the lottery and became a millionaire. Money is everything to these people, their creed is one of dishonesty, and it has fostered a daughter that initially comes across as obnoxiously socially awkward before it settles in that amid all of the quirky situational humor, her life is plain fucked up. Kajillionaire is basically Shoplifters by way of Miranda July, and to those of you that are familiar with her work and can get on her wavelength (it’s actually her first film from this critic and I greatly enjoyed it, so make of that whatever you will), that’s definitely a compliment.
Deep-voiced, monotone, and rocking oversized clothes with dirty blonde hair so long it’s hard to fault anyone for assuming Old Dolio has never gotten a haircut in her life, the film opens showing the daily routine of this family dynamic (they are anything but close to one another in the traditional familial sense.) Such activities involve stealing from the post office, an art that Old Dolio has perfected with goofy nimble movements and a blueprint of the security system in her mind. They then return their loot in exchange for whatever they can get. The pressure is also on considering rent for their office home is due soon and they’re already in hot water with the landlord.
One of these schemes ends up with Old Dolio attending a seminar on infant care, which triggers her first awakening as to not having a real childhood, tenderness, hell, even birthday parties. This alongside recurring California tremors (serving as a metaphor that’s a bit forced but certainly inspired) only strengthens the realizations Old Dolio is coming to, but none more so than a new acquaintance and addition to the crime in Gina Rodriguez’s Melanie, a lively loner that comes along for the ride. At first, Old Dolio disapproves with a hint of jealousy in regards to how her parents treat her with more enthusiasm (Evan Rachel Wood masters the nuanced and unorthodox facial expressions equal to her bizarre personality, to further ground the character into something more tangible than weirdness for the sake of weirdness), until the last 45 minutes take an unexpectedly pleasant departure.
There is also a debate to be had that Kajillionaire wouldn’t even work if it didn’t go the direction that does. There are reasons for the quirk and awkwardness, with Miranda July having the confidence to boldly and consistently evolve the narrative. The finale is both devastating but heartwarmingly reassuring. Stabs at humor go from cringe to humanly off-kilter and morally complicated. Meanwhile, the talented ensemble is game to bring alive every oddball creative decision Miranda July has planned. Kajillionaire is richly characterized and worth a whole lot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com