Director: Miranda July
Plan B Pictures / Focus Films
Across books and movies – and various performance-art pieces, her one-woman shows and talks – Miranda July has built a worldview through using the lens of empathy to consider the largely unimaginable, the downright quirky, the weird and profoundly wonderful; there’s a darker edge in all of this too – the sad and unimaginably grim. So it is with her latest film (now on DVD) where, if anything, the material it draws on and the way the story is told the best comparison to her previous work is with the book It Chooses You rather than her other movies.
I was also reminded of when I first started seeing the films of Todd Solondz – in particular his first two movies. And indie films from the early 2000s/late 90s in general. The tone and feel and look and flavour of Kajillionaire is so early-00s that it feels like an idea July has been sleeping on. But, it’s also strangely prescient right now – the bruised lives of poverty-line Americans making bad choices and saying dumb things. Ever stop to think where it comes from? Misinformation is one thing – but what about the temptation of getting rich quick being constantly whispered in your ear. That could have some impact, right? That might make a person do something silly or believe in something almost profoundly absurd.
That’s one of the background themes in this deep, moving film.
So, Kajillionaire puts us straight into the world of the Dyne family. Career-scammers. Broke losers, deeply scornful of American values but still hopeful to tear off a corner of the American dream; not through their own hard work as much as through stockpiling stolen gifts to exchange or faking money-orders or rorting insurance companies. Therese (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) have raised Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) not so much as a daughter or child, simply as the wingman to their constant badly handled scamming operations. When we meet them they’re at a real low, behind on the $500 a month they pay – allegedly a bargain for their not even legal accommodation. They duck when walking past the landlord in the hope of not being seen.
Winger, Wood and Jenkins are all superb. They are all playing people that checked out of life in the hope of finding an easy street to run corner scams from. They’re doing harder slog avoiding the hard-slog. They are wounded and desperate and largely despicable. But there’s a hopelessness to their awfulness. Then they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) and the dynamics change.
Old Dolio (they named their daughter after a scam) is instantly jealous of the attention Melanie receives. A trio of petty thieves doesn’t translate well into being a quarter. Another trio that is contemplated is instantly a bust. The dynamics keep shifting, keep all the key players on their toes.
But as the scam-attempts pile up and the trust shifts and falls away completely, and the rebuilds as a type of new hope, the film grows the strangest of hearts. We realise how judgement-free July’s camera has been – but we’re right in the zone of deciding just who these characters are and what we think of them.
I’ve thought about Kajillionaire for days. A deeply strange and actually wondrous film. I loved it. And I’ll watch it again for sure.