DIRECTED BY: Miranda July
STARRING: Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Mark Ivanir, Rachel Redleaf, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Diana-Maria Riva, Randy Ryan, Jeffrey Nicholas Brown, Adam Bartley and Michelle Gillette
Con-artists Theresa and Robert have spent twenty-six years training their only daughter, Old Dolio, to swindle, scam, and steal at every opportunity. During a desperate, hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining their next scam, only to have their entire world turned upside down.
Written and directed by Miranda July, Kajillionaire is set in Los Angeles focusing on Old Dolio, a young woman who is in a codependent relationship with her parents Robert and Theresa. The trio also happen to be scammers, sleeping in a run down office building and a few times a day they must return to remove pink foam that leaks in from the factory next door. When Old Dolio devises a new scam that involves luggage insurance and flying to New York, they encounter Melanie Whitacre, a charming young woman who takes a liking to the grifters and impulsively decides to join their next batch of scams, much to Old Dolio’s resentment.
From the opening scene, we witness how this family of scammers operate, avoiding CCTV cameras at a post office as Old Dolio takes whatever she can grab. Even though Old Dolio takes all the risk, they still reward each other with a three-way split with each scam, questioning who, if any, is really benefitting from this? It’s an interesting perspective from Miranda July as she makes this oddball comedy on materialism and capitalism about these hapless con artists who just scrape by day to day and there’s just something about their methodology and selection of scams, with definitely the most tragic being that Robert and Theresa named their daughter Old Dolio after a homeless man that won the lottery in the hope that he would name her in his will. But it’s when Old Dolio attends a maternity class on behalf of someone else in order to earn some quick-cash, she learns just how she’s been lacking any kind of love and affection in her life that she’s been sorely missing and its in this arc of Old Dolio realising of her lost childhood and building frustration to how her parents treated and still treat her that is the films biggest strength, especially when Melanie comes onto the scene and Robert and Thersea show more humanity towards her than they do their own daughter, and while it appears that Old Dolio’s resentment towards Melanie is because of that, it soon becomes clear subtle hints of something else between the two with every look and touch. I’m fascinated by the choices made by Evan Rachel Wood portraying Old Dolio, particularly the voice, to the dry delivery of her lines, I thought she gave a really good performance in the role. Gina Rodriguez also gives a really charismatic and compelling performance as Melanie, as when her character is introduced is when the film really picks up as she’s bored of her life and decides to join in the family’s escapades only to learn its not like it is in the movies. Their chemistry and journey between Old Dolio and Melanie feels natural and earned. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger also give really good performances as Robert and Theresa, and I particularly did chuckle at Robert’s constant fear of any earthquake being ‘the big one’.
While the performances are the films biggest strengths, for me its the script where I have a few issues with. The films narrative took a while for it to gel for me and when Melanie is introduced is when it picks up, but there’s a certain lull in the middle act that makes the film feel more like a chore than engaging. It probably doesn’t help that some of the characters feel irredeemable (Robert and Theresa) and as we watch their scams during the course of the film, as well as how they treat Old Dolio, some of the creative choices towards the end about them in particular just didn’t land for me and you are left wondering throughout the course of the film just why the hell did these two have a child in the first place? Arguably the film could be labelled as too quirky for its own good and with comedy being subjective, the films moments of humour will either work or not for the viewer.
Kajillionaire is a decent film that I liked where the destination ended, but didn’t necessarily enjoy the journey. The script felt too quirky for my tastes and the narrative slightly disjointed, but I did enjoy the chemistry between Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez, with Wood giving a really good performance as Old Dolio.