Photo | “Kajillionaire” – Annapurna Pictures
Every minute of “Kajillionaire,” the latest quirky film from quirky filmmaker, actress, artist and writer Miranda July, is peculiar, specific, intentional and successful. Nothing this unsettling could be random. A coming-of-age story unlike any other, this is the tale of a young woman escaping her upbringing and her parents. To tell this story, July created some truly bizarre characters, brought to life by Debra Winger (“Terms of Endearment”) and Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”) as the parents of Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”).
Robert (Jenkins) and Theresa (Winger) are grifters of the smallest, most pathetic scale, scraping out a meager existence in Los Angeles for themselves and their daughter. To illustrate their parental relationship and the degree of commitment to scamming as a lifestyle, I will tell you that they named their daughter (Wood) “Old Dolio.” The reason for this is another money-making ploy: A homeless man named Old Dolio won the lottery in California, so baby Old Dolio’s parents named her after him in the hopes that he would leave his fortune to her.
He didn’t. For that and many other reasons, these ineffectual con artists sleep on the floor of an unused office; bubbles from the neighboring bubble factory overflow into the office at a certain time every day. The three hapless tenants gather and dispose of these bubbles for a reduction in rent, but unsurprisingly, they are still behind in payments. Theirs are the lowest imaginable level of cons and schemes, most of which are to the tune of less than $20. They deal in fake coupons, stolen neckties and forged gift certificates. Old Dolio conceives of a new scheme involving lost luggage and free airline tickets as a way to earn the needed funds for rent.
Wood creates a socially and emotionally stunted young woman, the product of a dreadful upbringing at the hands of two unsuitable parents who use her as a prop. Old Dolio is a character who only knows the disturbing world her parents have created for her. With her uncut hair and deep, strange speaking voice, she seems the opposite of the kind of chameleon-like persona needed to lie to and trick people.
On their flight to New York in the name of pretending to lose luggage and receive an insurance payout, the family meets a lovely, vivacious girl named Melanie, played by Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”). Compared to that strange and maladjusted trio, Melanie is a friendly, normal human being, but her own penchant for surviving by her looks and wits leads her to join up with the family of con artists, citing her love of the “Ocean’s 11” movie as preparation for high stakes grifting.
To various degrees and in different ways, the family falls in love with Melanie. It’s almost like she’s the first human they have met. To Old Dolio, Melanie represents an entire way of life that has been hidden from her. Old Dolio has never known love; she has never even witnessed it. After a neighbor pays her to attend court-mandated parenting classes on her behalf, Old Dolio keeps attending, but she is the child and she is learning all of the things her parents never did for her.
Watching “Kajillionaire” is often as uncomfortable as sleeping on the floor of an unused office with bubbles running down the wall, but it also describes the experience of growing up, feeling alienated and finding more authentic relationships in a manner that is undeniably bold and unusual. Miranda July is a one-of-a-kind artist, and this is her most challenging but meaningful film so far. The experience of growing up and realizing there is a world outside of your own family is a universal one. With “Kajillionaire,” July has described this journey in extreme terms, with characters as strange and unlikely as those in a dark fairy tale.
“Kajillionaire” is currently available to stream.
New This Week:
“The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2”: Carl Black (Mike Epps) is about to face off with the neighbor from hell (Katt Williams) in “The House Next Door.” Carl has only ever wanted the best for his family, but after surviving the events that led to his (not-so-)bestselling book, he’s moving everyone to his childhood home, where he’ll contend not only with his wife, Lorene (Zulay Henao), and kids, Allie (Bresha Webb) and Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson), but everyone who drives him crazy: Cronut (Lil Duval), Freezee (Andrew Bachelor), Rico (Tyrin Turner) and an entire neighborhood of characters who seem to attract strange activity after dark. And nothing could be more freaky than his new neighbor, Dr. Mamuwalde (Williams), who may or may not be a vampire. All multiplex theaters.
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