Written and Directed by: Miranda July
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins
Our lives are blessed with riches beyond our wildest dreams, and we don’t even recognize it.
This saying isn’t a famous quote or even something someone wrote down on a napkin in a diner. No, this is the truth behind Miranda July’s brilliant dark comedy, “Kajillionaire,” which hits cinemas on September 25th.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Old Dolio Dyne, Robert (Richard Jenkins), and Theresa’s (Debra Winger) adolescent daughter. They are a tightly knit family unit living within their bubble: they scheme their way through life and are training their daughter to follow in their footsteps.
The pacing and the look of the film are in lockstep with Old Dolio’s life: everything is calculated right down to the nanosecond, from the lighting to the set decorations that fill her life to the steadiness of the camera, everything works to show the orderliness that represents Old Dolio. July’s understated look, Jenkins’ and Winger’s gleefully over-the-top parents, allows Wood’s performance to stand out.
Robert and Theresa become even more elated when they meet Melanie, played by Gina Rodriguez. The smoothness with which Robert and Theresa revolve around Melanie is a credit to July because, although they lack a bone of responsibility, they calculate everything. Old Dolio doesn’t quite know what to make of Melanie.
July spends a good deal of the film permeating the Dyne’s quirky bubble with familiarity and immaturity, so that when a bond of trust is formed between Robert, Theresa and Melanie, Wood’s performance draws our attention into their world even more.
Melanie’s injection into the films’ antics brings the Dyne’s situation into sharp reality. There’s a dynamism between the four characters where they don’t rigidly stick together, yet the natural attraction propels them forward. Old Dolio doesn’t know how to react, straining the communal nature of the Dyne’s dynamic. Wood’s aloof performance balances the structured reality she lives in with the slowly emerging curious side of her personality.
Yet, she cannot fully branch out, even as the heists the four of them concoct get more and more daring. There is respect for the history without understanding the consequences of the future.
“Kajillionaire’s” witty script, written by July, carries the wisdom of the elders, even as they seek to trick their victims. On the other side of that, there is no responsibility behind the actions, other than to survive; Old Dolio doesn’t know any better. Despite her warming feelings toward Melanie, she can’t fully process the changing environment around her.
Old Dolio’s staid nature helps her to react when a familial dispute changes her circumstances physically. This is a calculated risk on July’s part that questions whether Old Dolio will continue to play a role in her transformation.
The delirious immaturity inherent in the third act’s revelation only strengthens the story’s position on family, on friendship, on the emotional baggage we each carry, but don’t necessarily have the ability or desire to release. “Stop and Smell the Roses” has a profound meaning to “Kajillionaire.” If only we’d recognize the importance sooner, we’d all be as rich as the Dyne’s.