Miranda July’s third feature is profoundly moving and wildly original
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS, IMAGE BY MATT KENNEDY
Sitting down to watch Kajillionaire, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that if it was anything like Miranda July’s previous films, I was in for something unique and surprising at every turn.
Kajillionaire tells the story of con-artists Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) Dynes who have spent 26 years training their only daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) to swindle, scam, and steal at every opportunity. During a desperate, hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger (Gina Rodriguez) into joining their family, only to have their entire world turned upside down.
Their world exists as far from logic as possible, but for some reason you can’t help but engage. Through bold and brilliant performances, the family avoids becoming too much of a joke despite how absurd their world is.
Intriguing from the off, it does take a while to settle into the film. The dysfunctional family dynamic and how erratically they live their life is quite stressful to watch. They have rejected all material comforts and live in a structurally problematic, but dirt-cheap, office space adjoining a bizarre bubble factory, serving as a true glimpse into what Old Dolio’s upbringing must have looked like.
The eccentric parents in particular are the root of much of the comedy as they give ludicrous advice with such certainty and confidence that you can’t help but laugh and find it endearing.
It isn’t until the contrasting character of Melanie is welcomed into the film that you’re allowed to feel somewhat settled in where the story is heading. She brings the accessible and human edge and holds up a mirror to this clan of oddballs. She’s armed with the familial warmth and kindness that Old Dolio has never been given.
Affection and money are rationed out in the same way throughout all of Old Dolio’s life, but Melanie offers affection without the transactional element.
Old Dolio oozes repression as she drifts through this world that has been handed to her, masked by a low monotone voice and a curtain of hair. The strong, silent type, we don’t get given any indication that she has ever necessarily considered her gender or sexuality, it’s simply through the course of events within the film that she and Melanie are drawn to one another. A refreshing take on queer romance in cinema that feels completely natural to the plot.
A standout scene comes when Old Dolio experiences an epiphany during an earthquake. A moment that begs to be watched in a cinema, the world goes dark for several minutes and Old Dolio has something resembling a religious experience, which subsequently comes crashing down when she realises she’s not dead at all. She’s essentially reborn and it’s never been so clear how truly bittersweet her family bond is.
So what if it’s a bit quirky? Miranda July should wear that term like a badge of honour for Kajillionaire.
Kajillionaire is out on general release in the UK and Ireland now.