With provocative, inspiring music and a cinematographic hue of calm colours, the opening of Kajillionaire is not unlike that of any other indie classic. However, Miranda July’s new comedy-drama soon beguiles the audience with its intriguing, utterly dysfunctional family of three, as they determine in simple yet strategic terms how to avoid the security cameras of the post office they intend to rob.
The film unfolds with the same artful intrigue and mischief it establishes from the get-go as con-artists and swindlers Theresa (Debra Winger), Robert (Richard Jenkins) and their daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) seek to pull off yet more heists under the threat of eviction. Quietly funny, the movie is never overtly slapstick in its comedy, but relies on understated physical humour as a backdrop to the slightly absurd conversations and situations with which the characters grapple. It’s a comedy that asks us why we find it funny, drawing attention to the character’s quirks and interactions that are, at their core, inexplicably extraordinary. As the feature develops into a more heart-wrenching exploration of familial love, its humour gives way to slightly incredulous and yet totally beautiful moments of poignancy.
There is both a comedy and poetry to the family of three marching in line, routinely ducking out of view of the landlord who lives next door and clearing the soap which leaks through the ceiling twice, sometimes three times a day. These iconic images become symbols of routine that punctuate this less than normal family life.
Kajillionaire stands out for its truly unusual and interesting set of subjects, who defy every norm we have conceived surrounding swindlers, those short of cash or dysfunctional families. In as much as the characters are utterly unlikable by nature, their eccentricity is completely irresistible. Winger and Jenkins are unmatched in the detail and dynamism they give to characters who are mostly unphased, unemotional and totally obsolete in the modern world. Wood perfectly strikes the balance between stubborn aloofness and a deep and desperate desire for affection.
Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), whom Theresa and Robert encounter during one of their more adventurous heists, is an unusual character in so far as her eagerness to join the group is left unexplained, the only apparent reason being sheer intrigue and excitement. She is, however, vital in drawing out themes of intimacy and motherhood, whilst her relationship with Old Dolio makes for an unexpected but charming duo.
Kajillionaire ultimately asks, “can you put a price on love?” and never fails in the poignancy and complexity with which it examines the question. Concluding with a final swindle that prevents the story from falling into a premature or cliched happy ending, the film is utterly unpredictable, both hilarious and heart-wrenching.
Kajillionaire will be screening as part of the 64th BFI London Film Festival on 7th October 2020 and on UK general release from 9th October 2020.
Watch the trailer for Kajillionaire here: