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Review: Kajillionaire

September 25, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest feature from indie filmmaker Miranda July, her first since The Future in 2011 and third overall following her 2005 breakout Me and You and Everyone We Know, Kajillionaire is an oddball crime comedy that is chock full of the writer/director’s usual eccentricities.

The film is populated by extremely quirky but still well defined characters, who exist in a world that is recognizable as our own while also serving as a heightened version of it. It’s the sort of movie where people behave oddly, but we just roll with it, because everyone in this world is a little odd.

The film’s protagonist is Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), the socially awkward young adult daughter of con artists Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger). As a family, the trio make their money through low-level grifting, trying to scrape together enough to pay their rent. They live in the office space of a soap factory, and every few hours have to scoop up the pink bubbles that run down the wall, in what is a clever, compelling visual motif.

Robert and Theresa show no affection towards Old Dolio, treating her more like a partner in crime than a daughter, and they have used her as a key player in their daily scams since she was a baby. Robert has also trained his family to be deathly afraid of earthquakes, warning of the coming “big one” every time there is a tremor in California. When Old Dolio wins a trip to New York, her parents reluctantly agree to go, so that they can pull off a baggage switch at the airport and collect insurance money on the “lost” luggage.

While on the plane, her parents befriend their seatmate Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a chatty, outgoing young woman who is the polar opposite of Old Dolio. Robert and Theresa invite Melanie into the crime family, causing Old Dolio to become jealous. This sets her down a path of realizing that she wants more out of life than just committing petty crimes to barely get by.

At the centre of the film is an amazing, physical performance by Evan Rachel Wood. Old Dolio is very awkward, both socially and physically. She practically disappears inside the baggy, oversized clothes that she wears, with her long blonde hair hanging down over the sides of her face. Wood fully commits to the role, from her droopy posture to her dropped down, monotone speaking voice, and it’s a sublime comic performance that is also sort of tragic.

The arc of the film comes from Old Dolio realizing that her parents never gave her what she needed, both in terms of affection and normal life experiences. From here, Kajillionaire becomes an offbeat portrait of a young woman trying to break away from her overprotective parents, and it’s actually sort of weirdly touching. July allows her film to unfold with both humour and a bit of pathos, bringing a very specific brand of quirkiness to the screen that I found frequently amusing to watch.

Kajillionaire is now playing in select theatres. It’s being distributed in Canada by Universal Pictures Canada.

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