Review: Miranda July's 'Kajillionaire' finds warmth in the strangest places
Courtesy of Focus Features
Bizarre and strange in the most absurdist way imaginable, Miranda July’s beautifully warm “Kajillionaire” is a sharp observation on companionship and family. As July has proven time and again, she’s an important voice who delivers remarkable characters who aren’t confined by societal norms. For instance, Evan Rachel Wood (who disappears so completely into the lead role, I didn’t realize it was her for about 30 minutes) plays the daughter of a group of con-artists who’s struggling with purpose and understanding her place in the world. The journey is an offbeat one and its relentless energy and pacing don’t always land the mark, but those who indulge in the wild side of July’s ingenious script are in for a delight.
Not only is this July’s first feature in nine years, it’s also her most stacked. Aside from Wood, she’s roped in Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez and Richard Jenkins into the mix. While not major movie stars by today’s standards, their approach and dedication to the sillier aspects of July’s worldview certainly help the bottom line.
As a withdrawn, 20-something who still lives with her parents (Winger and Robert) Wood’s Old Dolio is a fascinating aurora to spend the better half of two hours with. Holed up in an abandoned office building next to a bubble factory - where each day at precisely 5pm, the walls ooze with overflowing soapy suds - these batch of characters are thieves and scavengers who will do anything to earn a buck. Their pastime and biggest moneymaker is stealing packages from the local post office, but that hits a snag when the joint installs security cameras on the premises.
Enter Melanie (Rodriguez) who’s a hip mall employee that wants to help with the cons, quickly upending the normal routines and logistics of Old Dolio’s livelihood and existence. July is nothing if not prone for introducing wacky characters and throwing them in even wackier, unconventional, scenarios with “Kajillionaire” being no different. The casual viewer could struggle to understand the broader scope of what July is selling, but she does a solid job at expanding her voice and making it easier for audiences to surrender to her style.
Everyone in the film is held to a high standard, asked to deliver thoughtful and affecting performances to help maintain the integrity of the plot. The women have long, straight hair, and look like the offspring of Jason Mews, and Old Dolio speaks in a low, baritone, raddle. This is a strange family, and once we understand how these characters work and operate it becomes easy to understand why Old Dolio is constantly frustrated with her parents and their obvious lack of empathy.
But with the addition of Melanie, who seems to operate like a normal person, July adds a comedic juxtaposition to Old Dolio’s clan. Whereas Old Dolio wears baggy jeans and long, oversized shirts, Melanie is proud of her body and radiates a sexy confidence, something that eventually plagues the con-artist squad.
Though some of those endearing and not so tender moments feel inspired, it’s hard to ignore long stretches where the screenplay doesn’t amount to much, allowing the viewer to assert their own conclusion about the pile of ambiguities. That might work for some, but I can easily see it becoming a crutch that could sour audiences. In the long run, patience is a virtue when it comes to July, and allowing the off-kilter rhythm of the story to unfold slowly over time is probably the easiest way to approach this strange gem of a film.
Kajillionaire will be released in theaters on September 25th followed by a premium, video on demand, release October 16th.
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