It might be too soon for me to call it a pattern, but Miranda July’s films always seem to achieve an interesting quirkiness by juxtaposing the ordinaries with the odds. In “The Future”, the oddness comes in the form of an alternate universe that hopes to predict the paths forward for a couple in a strained relationship. “Kajillionnaire” doesn’t go that far but it still revels in a strange oddness. The film follows a grifter family from LA that goes about making ends meet by cheating, stealing, and transacting in unusual ways - all small time acts, just enough to get by and not large enough to get caught. Whether they truthfully believe it or not - their inexplicable rationale for this lifestyle is to not blend in with the masses - a sort of rebellion against the capitalist society and its systems. But they’re no idealists; just small time crooks who don’t want to make an effort because they’re convinced they shouldn’t. This curious existence itself is worthy of a movie in itself - a sort of character study, if you will.
But July adds a delicious existential layer on top of this - an exploration of the profoundness of the ordinary aspects of human life and emotion - something this grifter lifestyle doesn’t let our protagonist family afford. We see this specifically through the evolving perspectives of Old Dolio, their daughter, who starts questioning her lack of human connection and how the way she was raised, contributed to it.
This exposition of detachment, and the ensuing loneliness, doesn’t limit itself to Old Dolio’s experiences. We see other analogies throughout the movie - the most gut-wrenching of all in the form of an old man dying alone in his bedroom. Dolio and her family attempt to swindle him by entering his home and looking for his checkbook. The door is unlocked and the old man doesn’t bother that there are intruders, instead urging them to make sounds from the living room and kitchen, as if there’s people around and he isn’t dying in isolation. July delivers this moment and many others throughout this film through sharp writing and imagination. She fashions a combination of humor and critique into her narrative fabric in a unique style representative of a definitive auteur-to-be.
We get four perfectly cast actors with fine performances - Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger as the older couple with fraught moral compasses, Evan Rachel Wood as fluttery Old Dolio, and Gina Rodriguez as Melanie, the outsider who stumbles upon Dolio’s family and joins them - in search of excitement - only to discover she’ll get more than what she bargained for. The chemistry between Rodriguez and Wood is so endearing, having almost a discount Thelma & Louise aspect to it, that makes one want a sequel to this movie to see where their relationship would go.
“Kajillionnaire” might be set in it’s own comedic sub-universe that deals in the absurds, but there is so much warmth and ferment rumination on life’s anchors in it’s beating heart.
Now streaming on HBO Max.
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