Film Review: Kajillionaire (2020)
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
Miranda July's movement towards more expansive pastures parallel her protagonist's.
It is wonderfully bracing to see women directors coming up with fresh takes on what have been predominantly male-dominated genres. First, it was Emerald Fennell with her spin on a revenge thriller, now it's Miranda July with a quirky, sad, and ultimately uplifting heist film.
So, what is the underlying emotion in a heist film? It is, I think, camaraderie, friendship, a sense of community. Of family. Normally, in a heist/con film it is the chemistry of men - their wink-wink-nudge-nudge jokes, obsessions that fuel the plot. Though July's film begins with a funny petty crime, that proves as lucrative for the family as anything they have ever done could, we can sense its central character, Old Dolio's disquiet right from the start. Evan Rachel Wood successfully converts the character's frustration with economic gestures, looks, and grunts. She also manages to get across the fact that even she does not what she wants.
Treated by her parents Robert and Theresa (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger, respectively) as an unwanted but necessary third angel in their vapid lives. Old Dolio lives her life slave to whatever hair-brained scheme that her parents come across next. The only other thing that occupies her mind is the alarms she has set to get back to the condemned house that they live in and wipe the soapy foam that seeps out of the walls. If that sounds weird, it is. But as I was saying, her life is completely devoid of and affection. So much, that she cannot bear to have a masseuse even touch her. She flinches and then cries.
En route a trip so that they can purposefully lose their luggage and claim insurance, they have a chance meeting with Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who shrewdly guesses that they are up to no good. She joins the family for what initially seems like a condescending amusement, but is later revealed as desperation to belong to a family too. Like Wood, Rodriguez also has an uncanny understanding of her character and does not need an elaborate backstory to show her neediness.
Will Old Dolio be able to break away from her parents and carve a life of her own?
While watching this film, I was reminded of July's previous one: Me and Everyone We Know. That film left me with the impression of being the work of someone who had a lot to say. So much, that her visual restraint automatically becomes a virtue. She is saving things, patiently waiting for them to reveal her observations as a story that she can share with the world. The controlled energy of that film finds a release here. Not a lot, though. I mean, there is still that sense of control, but there is also an ease, a confidence that is promising. There merging of the different tones is not really perfect and the film pushes its quirkiness, but overall it is moving, funny, life-affirming, and even unique.
This is a movement towards a more expansive pasture from her personal dramas. A movement that is in parallel with her protagonist's overture to the outer expanses. There is a moment when she has finished a meal foraged from a plane and Old Dolio stands looking at the Manhattan skyline. There is a sense of yearning and a sad belief that she is looking at something that will always be a mystery to her. This is a world that July has successfully breached with Kajillionaire.
She still has a lot to say, and I, for one will wait patiently to hear more.