Cinema Review: Kajillionaire | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, October 23rd, 2020  


Studio: Focus Features
Directed by Miranda July

Sep 23, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Daughter of an oddball family of scammers is curious about her role as the child within the strange trio, becoming increasingly desperate for an elusive normality.

Outcasts and non-conformers, couple Robert and Theresa (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) bum about L.A. looking to earn their living through elaborate scams. We meet them outside a post office, looking to source checks, expensive mail-sent gifts and other potential desirables that could wield a profit. By their side is daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), a trained scammer from birth, an equal third in their operations to pay their ways by fraud and theft.

With mounting rent payments and a run of botched hustles, the family become desperate for money. They need the sum of $1,575 and they need it quickly. Old Dolio comes up with a sophisticated plan to win compensation from an airline for baggage loss. On their way back from New York (a trip afforded by a scammed competition voucher), Robert and Theresa cajole Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a young, outgoing woman, into aiding them in the baggage-loss heist. Not only is Melanie won over by the couple but the couple also take a liking to the bubbly and charming Melanie.

When they all get back to L.A. Old Dolio is sceptical of how chummy her parents are getting with a stranger. Old Dolio’s dubiousness is also met with an intrigue. The radiant Melanie is the nearest the family has allowed themselves to get to someone so well integrated into society and her normality stirs a curiosity in Old Dolio. The young swindler has spent her life evading such frivolities but her parent’s warmth toward the newcomer sparks a degree of jealousy.

This is where director Miranda July really gets the most out of Kajillionaire. Old Dolio is as strange and complex a character as you’ll meet all year. The abnormality of her upbringing, the conflicting cool awkwardness—or awkward coolness, the pained expression, like every utterance in that jock-mimicking drawl causes her a physical trauma, all contributing to a one-of-a-kind eccentricity. July takes this character, whose peculiarities aren’t without appeal, and frames her, as she should, like a product of neglect, a tool for her parents to use. As Old Dolio (even her name is a difficult cross to bear), realises that her role as a daughter may not be one that breeds love from her parents, she begins to yearn for another life, one seen through the spectrum of her family's new accomplice.

July also succeeds into taking the families idiosyncrasies and drawing out a genuine surreality. Few films about family and young people coming of age manage such quirks with the heavy hand they should be afforded. Often, a film will introduce similarly queer characters and level out their outlandishness with a dampening mawkishness, losing all the otherworldly quality that keeps a film like Kajillionaire difficult to define. Audiences may find that Kajillionaire keeps itself at a distance, making it a film whose sentiments can be hard to penetrate. Luckily, it lands on the right side of sincere and smack-bang in the middle of weird. 


Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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