Miranda July’s Kajillionaire capitalizes with frequency at the sheer screwball nature of its characters and its setup, leading to a film with moments full of muted laughter and genuine emotions.
Evan Rachel Wood stands emotionless in an office building with soap oozing from the walls. She wears a green and blue tracksuit, with her long blonde hair down past her waist. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger flank her, grabbing trash bins and scooping the soap as it falls. These three people center Miranda July’s newest film Kajillionaire, a look at a nuclear family living in disarray and a sense of poverty. With odd yet tremendous performances from those three along with a grounded script, Kajillionaire succeeds far more than it fails, opposite from the family it’s following.
Old Dolio (Wood), named after a lottery-winning homeless man, lives with her parents, Robert (Jenkins) and Theresa (Winger), in a codeless office building next to a construction site. These people split everything three ways, steal mail from the post office, and enter every drawing imaginable. Scams and cons are their everyday activities, living as business partners rather than a “normal” family. They need $1,500 to avoid eviction from their emotional landlord, and their big heist includes flying both ways to New York City and intentionally losing their luggage to get the reimbursement. They fail to realize that this reimbursement will take up to six weeks to be sent, and the rest of the film follows these logical decisions.
While on the plane though, Robert and Theresa meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who joins the family on a whim, taking the spot and care of beloved daughter that Dolio never received. The film picks up speed with Rodriguez in the picture, and the updated family begins running cons on old, senile residents around the city. During these cons and the subsequent second and third acts, July’s film features several moments of profound interest. The four “play house” while a sick man dies and Dolio realizes her life has been missing love, care, family, and day-to-day joy.
The entire cast plays to the subtleties of July’s script, with Rodriguez boasting the most outward personality. Richard Jenkins, in particular, deserves praise, continuing to show that he is one of Hollywood’s best character actors. The deadpan comedy grows funnier and funnier as the movie rolls along, with every Old Dolio naming, every parenting class, and every situation becoming more absurd and enjoyable. July creates characters we root for, despite their clear and obvious shortcomings. We shouldn’t like this family, but we still want them to be happy.
Kajillionaire looks like any indie film about a family in trying times, but the more you buy into July’s scrappy personalities and assured direction, the more you can let this story affect you. Melancholic humor covers the film at all times, and even when you’re laughing, your sympathies go out to Old Dolio, a young woman becoming desperate for change. July has made a film that resonates and includes, instead of alienating its audiences, giving us a reason to care about those that don’t care for each other. We might be the first people to truly care about Old Dolio. Kajillionaire, and these characters, deserve a spot in this world.
This review was filed from Sundance 2020. Check out all of our coverage from the festival.
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Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.