LFF 2020 film review: Kajillionaire
Evan Rachel Wood8
Matthew Turner | On 08, Oct 2020
Director: Miranda July
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mark Ivanir, Rachel Redleaf
Watch Kajillionaire online in the UK: London Film Festival
Kajillionaire streamed online as part of the 2020 London Film Festival. For more on how the festival works, click here.
The third feature from writer-director Miranda July arrives nine years after her second movie (The Future) and a whopping 15 years after her wonderful 2005 debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know. Fortunately, although she may not be the most prolific of filmmakers (she’s also a singer, author, actress and artist), her latest film proves to be very much worth the wait.
Set in Los Angeles, Kajillionaire centres on the Dyne family – father Robert (Richard Jenkins), mother Theresa (Debra Winger) and 26-year-old daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) – who live in an abandoned office building where one of the conditions of their $500 a month rent is that they have to continually clear up the pink foam that seeps in from the factory next door. Fundamentally distrustful of the world around them, the Dynes spend their days pursuing low-level scams, such as raiding post office boxes for gifts they can return.
When Old Dolio comes up with a plan to claim insurance on lost luggage, the family take a plane to New York, where Robert and Theresa take a shine to Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a chatty young woman seated next to them on the return flight. Melanie becomes an enthusiastic new recruit to their grifter family, which deeply unsettles Old Dolio, not least because her parents display a degree of warmth and affection in their interactions with Melanie that they have never shown towards her.
Part of the pleasure of Kajillionaire resides in a particular plot development that it would be churlish to reveal here. Suffice it to say that an unexpected element rears its head early on and you spend the rest of the film desperately hoping that it’s going where you think it is.
Like July’s previous films, Kajillionaire explores loneliness and human connection, but from an intriguingly offbeat angle. Here, thanks to her decidedly sheltered upbringing (it’s like home schooling gone horribly, horribly wrong), Old Dolio – the explanation for her name is another delightful thing that shouldn’t be revealed here – doesn’t even realise what’s been missing from her life until the arrival of Melanie, although there are stirrings of feelings she can’t process when she attends a pre-natal class as part of a scam.
The performances are flat-out fantastic. Wood begins the film as a completely closed-off character and the way she responds to the seismic new events in her life is captivating to watch. Similarly, Jenkins finds a comedic edge to an otherwise quite difficult character and there’s strong support from Winger, whose character is suddenly forced to deal with her own parental inadequacies.
However, the standout is Rodriguez, who delivers a sensational turn. Talking a mile a minute, she’s funny and charming, bringing the picture (and the family) a much-needed warmth. However, she also gives Melanie enough layers to suggest why she would latch on to the Dynes in the first place.
Aside from the cascading pink foam (like a broken candy floss machine) in the Dynes’ office building home, July includes a number of memorably offbeat touches, from Old Dolio’s bizarre wardrobe to recurring symbolic motifs like the earthquakes or the family’s fear of turbulence, both of which represent the imminent shake-up in their lives. Even the dialogue has a charmingly offbeat note, such as this exchange between Theresa and Robert about a game of golf on TV: “Did he score?” / “He scored a one-hole!”
Kajillionaire marks a welcome return for Miranda July. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 10 years for her next film.
Kajillionaire premiered at 9pm on 7th October on BFI Player. Find out more and book LFF tickets here.
Catch Miranda July’s Screen Talk free online here: