Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) and her parents Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) are Con Artists. They hustle and steal to make ends meet, and are content with how they live their lives. When their livelihood is threatened, the family needs to come up with a major heist in order to survive. And when her parents bring in outsider Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) to help, Old Dolio becomes jealous and starts to feel things she never has before.
That description likely sounds strange and somehow, Kajillionaire becomes even stranger as it progresses. But it also becomes sweet, tender, emotional and genuinely moving at the exact same time. Writer/Director Miranda July, in her first Feature film in nine years (and only her third in 15 years), has composed a coming-of-age Dramedy that delicately balances all of those feelings and more. She expertly weaves between the bizarre and the sweet, layering-in the Comedy strategically. The characters and some of their actions are quirky and outrageous, but July does not expect you to laugh at them. Nor does she want you to pity them. More than anything, she wants you to feel their emotions, their pain and their way of life. And once that is done, then you can start laughing. It does not always happen that way, but the genuine Comedy she is able to derive from her characters and their actions is frequently hysterical.
And yes, July did name her lead character Old Dolio. While I will not spoil why, but the reason is just as funny as it is downright heartbreaking.
All of this would be for nothing without the truly wonderful Ensemble Cast. Winger and Jenkins are terrific as the Con Artist parents, embracing the characters’ quirks and never showing their hand. Winger is cold and steely, whereas Jenkins is anxious and more visibly expressive. I could have done without a perspective-shattering pivot half way through the Film, but the pair remain strong and resolute even afterwards. Rodriguez really sinks her teeth into Melanie, never once giving into the lunacy happening around her. She is an enigmatic presence for the most part, but she has an aura of sadness that envelopes and surrounds her. I would have liked it if the Film unpacked her a bit more, but July makes up for it by giving Rodriguez all of the Film’s best lines. But Rachel Wood towers over the Ensemble, delivering one of her most densely-layered and multifaceted performances to date. Old Dolio is broken and lost when we meet her, and Rachel Wood does an excellent job leaning into the quirks that stem from that. Her stubborn nature is a thing of beauty, and becomes even stronger as she starts understanding her trauma and feelings. Her husky, masculine voice takes a bit to get used to, but her masterful balancing act gives the Film its soul.
I was very indifferent while watching Kajillionaire at first. Once I gave into the Film’s odd nature, I ended up laughing the most out of any Film I have seen in a very long time. July has composed a unique entry in the Coming-of-Age genre, and though it is very quirky, the Film is still rather wonderful. Her writing is great and her ensemble is terrific. It may sound very strange, but Kajillionaire is one of the most human movies you will see all year.
Focus Features release KAJILLIONAIRE in select theatres on Friday, September 25, 2020.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre*.