Film Review: Kajillionaire
Zebib K.A. reviews the film Kajillionaire, perfectly encapsulating the actors performances, storyline and subtle meanings in the film perfectly.
Kajillionaire arrives as a wondrously strange film to help end 2020—an unexpected queer love story, a whimsical tale of emotional trauma, and a mournful late-stage coming of age saga. We should expect nothing less of Miranda July, the imaginative multidimensional artist, writer, and director behind the film.
July’s first full-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, followed a cast of characters who search for love and meaning; her second film, The Future, is an artful window into a couple unsatisfied with life. In Kajillionaire, we see Miranda July venture even further into whimsical, tragic, and surrealist explorations of the human condition. In all her films, July explores the wonder hidden in the mundane details of life.
In Kajillionaire, we follow one dysfunctional and bizarre family unit. Old Dolio, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is the adult daughter of two withholding and selfish grifters, Robert and Theresa, played by veteran actors Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger. Their daily lives follow a comic, mundane beat; pilfering packages from the local post office, taking the bus, stealing checks, “renting” a rundown office space where they sleep on the floor and have to wipe leaking industrial soap off the walls twice a day. Old Dolio has never lived apart from her parents, and their codependent relationship has held her back from friends or any sense of normalcy. They are a comical and sad trio, awkward and stifled, unable to form real connections with others, and unable to express real love or care for each other, even as Old Dolio secretly longs for the warmth her parents deny her.
Everything changes when the family meets Melanie, played by Gina Rodriguez, an optician’s assistant who offers to help them in a con. As Melanie and Old Dolio interact, we see the dynamic of the family change. Old Dolio is spurred to re-examine the toxic relationship she has with her parents and to form an emotional connection of her own.
What distinguishes July’s work in this film is the longing, tragedy, and romance underneath the whimsical strangeness of her direction and writing. The shots can be stylized, the colours on screen an arrangement of saturated pastels, the movement of the characters like performance art (July is a performance artist herself). Bizarre, quirky stylistic choices hide a greater emotional depth. July disarms us. Scenes that start as ordinary explorations of a mark’s house become high art, music overtaking the background, little actions infused with meaning and loss. What begins as an odd and amusing scene of stealing an old man’s chequebook becomes the operatic last moments of his life. Being locked in a dark gas station bathroom becomes a revelatory flight through space.
Even Old Dolio’s name is both ridiculous and sad. Her parents name her after an old man, in hopes of getting some inheritance from him, but he spends all his money on his cancer treatment before he dies. Therefore, Old Dolio’s very name is a con, a reflection of how her parents use her from birth. Jenkins and Winger play her parents as awkward, cold, stunted people, who might care for their daughter somewhere underneath their lifelong selfishness. The actors all do an amazing job of making off-putting characters layered and engaging. We also get to see the consequences of this emotional neglect in Old Dolio, brainwashed into following her parents’ way of life but longing for more. Evan Rachel Wood soars here, as a deep-voiced, stifled adult-child, a young woman full of suppressed hurt. Wood’s performance has a lot to do with the success of her character. She delivers a performance that is awkward and compelling. Her work in this film is wonderfully subtle. Old Dolio’s longings and anger come alive in her connection to Melanie, played with charm by Rodriguez. Ultimately, the film emerges, unexpectedly and slowly, as a story of an adult healing from childhood trauma, as well as being a surprising queer love story. The queerness in the film (even labelling it as such might be reductionist, and also a spoiler) was not clear from the advertising. It’s refreshing to see a film that doesn’t queerbait, that has a queer actor in the lead, and that lets an embrace of queer love be part of a character’s healing. This is a film that, if you are open to its strange twists and turns, will enchant you.
This article was edited by Kirsten Provan (and sourced) and Tamara El-Halawani.