Miranda July has been on the indie radar for years. Her directorial debut, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” was a funny and alternative way of looking at contemporary life that became a critical success and made audiences fall in love, winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the Golden Camera at Cannes. July followed that up with “The Future,” another “slice of life” focusing on a seemingly mundane story that alters the course of the protagonist’s life.
Now, it’s no surprise her third feature, “Kajillionaire,” is still following those threads, showing the lives of the misunderstood and unsung populations on the fringes of society. In this particular story, we meet a rather disheveled family in the midst of one of their many money-making schemes. This one involves a silly choreographed dance in order to avoid security cameras, and serves as a swell introduction to the family we’ll be spending our time following and all the little idiosyncrasies that accompany each member.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the central character, Old Dolio Dyne, the daughter of Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger). It’s clear something is off about Old Dolio, from her signature baggy sweater and loose tracksuit to the never-been-cut hair and her somber demeanor. She never lets anyone get close to her, and physical touch is awkward and shocking. Social interactions are virtually non-existent. Even the origin of her name is so impersonal.
So, when her family invites an outsider to join them on a major heist, Old Dolio’s way of life is altered, and the comfortable walls protecting her from a world that has never shown her any love come crashing down.
Old Dolio’s family is living every day scrounging for the next petty crime or small-time con to make ends meet. When they aren’t trying to steal mail from neighboring mailboxes at the post office, they’re walking the streets searching for spare change in pay phones or picking up anything that may contain some forgotten treasure.
Part of the daily routine of this unconventional troop is dodging their temperamental landlord, Stovid (Mark Ivanir). This avoidance often means a hilarious and flexible routine of ducking, crouching and limboing past the gate of his cleaning business where the family rents the front offices. The well-practiced system of removing a certain pink substance is as hilarious as it is depressing. While the story is setting up for a more poignant final act there are many silly and endearing moments full of whimsy and surprise.
Jenkins and Winger as the odd-ball parents are almost perfect. Jenkins is always reliable to bring entertainment to the screen, and this is no exception – he makes the most out of every frame he graces. Wood brings a level of frailty and vulnerability to her character that’s downright heartbreaking. Gina Rodriguez injects life into the quirky family with her spirited and flirty personality as Melanie.
In “Kajillionaire,” July has crafted such an interesting narrative – while we may not be completely informed on all the reasons the family is living this way, we are given plenty of clues from what we have seen. Old Dolio’s personal and internal struggle of finding and accepting love brings a surprisingly emotional poignancy that sits with you well after the titles roll.
“Kajillionaire” is now playing in select theaters.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.