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Review: Kajillionaire

I was able to watch this film in the safety of my home thanks to getting an online screener link from the studio, a privilege many do not get. Considering the current coronavirus pandemic and the dangers it still presents, I do not endorse you returning to movie theaters at this time.

Miranda July defined her unique voice with her debut feature 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know. She then took six years to follow it up with the no less idiosyncratic The Future. Nine years later we see her return with Kajillionaire, a film that further defines July's unique voice while adding more roads into her unique world. This is her most accessible film in some ways.

While her two first films explored romantic relationships, Kajillionaire focuses more on familial relationships. The Dynes are an insular family. Parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) are con artists who rope their grown-up daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) into their grifts. They sneak into post offices and steal things out of PO Boxes, they return gift certificates or cash items and avoid their landlord like the plague. This isn't great parenting and July never tries to pass it off as such but she is curious if there is any real love in this family dynamic.

The Dynes' routine is shaken up with Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) enters their life. She is an extrovert, deeply at odds with the introverted family but gets roped into their latest con and decides to stick around. Over time, we see that Melanie may be attracted to Old Dolio. Her sticking around is never fully explained but her feelings for Old Dolio are clear and oddly moving. Melanie may be her only salvation from her parents.

July's style and storytelling will not appeal to everyone. Her characters are often broken but also very sincere and somewhat precious. Her affectations, especially in weird details, can make her films feel more abstract than they are. Kajillionaire may be her most straight-forward story but it still features odd details like how the Dynes' residence/office has a wall that leaks pink foam everyday at the same time that they must scoop up into trash cans. It is a powerful image when thinking of the story's themes but in the moment it can just seem strange. If you can get on July's wavelength though, she has a big heart and a knack for creating singular characters that make you care about them.

The actors here are one of the big reasons that the film works. They have great chemistry together. Rodriguez is particular charming here. Wood creates a complete and original performance as Old Dolio. It is a performance that will be hard to forget for some time thanks to the physicallity she brings to the role. Her deep voice, long hair, and tight shoulders make Old Dolio help create a character who is a product of her parents and yet totally her own person. Jenkins and Winger convincingly portray a couple who calculate everything around what it gets them.

In the fantastic third act, Kajillionaire reveals that while it certainly has family on the mind, the film is largely about loneliness. It moves to become an unexpected queer romance that hits a final note that moved me. The film rewards those viewers willing to go along with July's unique voice. Old Dolio may be a product of her neglectful parents. Watching her move towards independence is captivating and moving.



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