“Most people wanna be kajillionaires, that’s the dream!”, asserts Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”, “The Visitor”) as Robert Dyne to his wife Teresa (Debra Winger; “Terms of Endearment”, “An Officer and a Gentleman”) and 26-year-old daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood; “Westworld (TV)”, “Thirteen”). But the Dynes are not most people: their ideal life, as he explains, is to scheme, earning just enough money through con jobs to survive off the grid.
As the couple’s daughter, Old Dolio is as much an expert in this way of life as a prop: her own name was part of a con that her parents were trying to pull off, and she is often sent to do jobs for them.
This life suits her well because it is the only one she knows, but when she goes to parenting classes in place of someone else for $20, Old Dolio is confronted with a truth buried deep inside her: her parents have never shown her love, and she actually barely knows what it is like.
This realization that is starting to take root inside of her is exacerbated with the arrival of Melanie (Gina Rodriguez; “Annihilation”, “Jane the Virgin (TV)”), a bubbly, fast-talking woman who meets the Dynes by happenstance and decides that their misadventures is exactly the kind of excitement she was missing in her life. Her arrival in the tight-knit group, however, starts to challenge the family’s dynamic.
Watching Kajillionaire is a peculiar experience. You never really know where it is taking you, the film seamlessly blurring the lines between straight-up comedy, tragedy, coming-of-age and romantic comedy. Some scenes are awkward to watch, others make you wonder what you’re supposed to feel, and some even seem pointless, up until the end where it all clicks into place without you even realizing it.
Miranda July (“Me and You and Everyone We Know”, “The Future”) wrote and directed the film with a strong sense of empathy and honesty. The characters and situations are weird and quirky and awkward, sometimes even off-putting, but before you know it, it all starts to feel familiar. By the end, it is impossible not to care.
The film has four main actors. Veterans Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins are wonderful as these cold parents we both hate and love, but the real standouts are Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez. The former completely changes her voice and mannerisms to bring life to the endearingly awkward Old Dolio, while Gina Rodriguez brings nuance, energy and sincerity into the most “normal” character of the bunch.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the soundtrack, a mesmerizing original score by Emile Mosseri (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”, “American Sexy Phone”) complemented by Bobby Vinton’s iconic “Mr. Lonely”.
Don’t be fooled by Kajillionaire’s quirkiness or its seemingly simple or directionless premise. It is a carefully shot and written film that slowly unravels itself, offering a poetic and empathetic experience that has a lot to say about family, love, and the good old human experience.
THE QUICK SELL
A woman's life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they're planning.