Film Review: Kajillionaire

STUDIO: Focus Features | DIRECTOR: Miranda July | CAST: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins
RELEASE DATE: Sept. 25, 2020
SPECS: R | 106 min. | Crime comedy drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes):  Movie  1/2

Kajillionaire, writer/director Miranda July’s third feature, is a crime movie like no other. Bu then again, what would you expect from the filmmaker behind the small, quirky serio-comic indie faves Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), which was partially narrated by a cat named Paw Paw?

The focus of Kajillionaire is the Dyne family, which includes father Robert (Richard Jenkins, Killing Them Softly), mother Theresa (Debra Winger, The Lovers) and 26-year-old daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood, HBO’s Westworld). They live in an abandoned office in downtown Los Angeles where bubbles seep through their walls every day. They also happen to be erratic small-time scam artists who are not below plucking packages out of post office boxes or pulling off a job in which they have to fly cross-country to New York to cash in on a luggage insurance claim.

It’s during that latest scheme that they befriend Melanie (Gina Rodriguez, Annihilation) on a plane. The feisty Puerto Rican sales clerk at an optical store joins forces with them, and soon allows them to join her in swindling some of her elderly customers. Melanie is sucked into this outlaw everyday way of life and the pull of the dysfunctional Dyne clan.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the previous efforts of July–who has been a performance artist, directed music videos and acted in films–that plotting takes a backseat to the little moments in her films; and, while seemingly simple on the surface, the characters’ exploits eventually open a deep well of emotions. Here, Old Dolio is sprung into reassessing her life and the way her parents raised her in a most unusual way, and the relationship between all of the characters is continually shifting. Surprises abound as the audience is kept off-balance.

The ensemble work of the four main actors is impressive. Wood, with messy long, flowing hair, affects a sullen look and gruff voice throughout, mirroring her disillusionment with the world around her. Winger, with similar hair-style and demeanor, and Jenkins, disheveled and always trying to come up with another unseemly way to find cash, are perfectly cast as enterprisingly creepy parents. And Rodriguez adds a spark to the proceedings as the loquacious wild card, who seems to be interested in the grifting just because she likes the Oceans 11 movies.

 Kajillionaire was well-received at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and should draw strong interest from fans of the filmmaker who have waited nearly a decade since The Future was released.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.