This film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
I am absolutely head over heels in love with writer-director Miranda July‘s “Kajillionaire,” a quirky, tender film that explores the longing for human connection wrapped up in a story about a family of down-on-their-luck con artists. The project has July’s signature style all over, and it’s one of the very best works of her career.
Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) are life-long grifters. They’ve trained their only daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), well. The trio are well-versed in every scam, swindle, and opportunity for thievery, from lifting mail from adjacent post office boxes to demanding a reward for finding “lost” jewelry. While on a mission to defraud a travel insurance company, they meet kind stranger Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), who is intrigued by the family. Melanie casually mentions that she has a crackerjack idea to trick her elderly customers into gifting her valuable antiques, which she can subsequently sell for cash. Desperate for rent money, the family invites Melanie to join them on their next heist, which turns Old Dolio’s world upside down.
The story is original, touching, very funny, and it goes places you won’t expect. Wood is fantastic as Old Dolio, a stoic, lonely, and strange young woman who is obsessed with the fact that she was never held as a baby. She longs to be shown affection, and it’s a heartbreaking character that Wood wholly embodies. All of the performances are fantastic, but she stands out.
The dry, wry humor is an acquired taste, but if you appreciate July’s previous work, you’ll likely love this. There are moments of greatness (including a beautiful scene about loneliness that takes place in a dying man’s apartment), and heavy themes about learning to love yourself and the joys of friendship and salvation are laid out in non-conventionally delicate but effective ways. I adored every single moment of this film.
The story turns from a generic tale of grifters into a lively portrait of self discovery, and it’s beautiful when Old Dolio begins to experience a true connection with Melanie as they devise a plan to free her from a life of petty crime.
“Kajillionaire” is uplifting and charming, and has a lot of original, insightful things to say about the world we all live in.