Do children owe anything to their parents? Though you may have had an immediate reaction to that question, the range of answers is enormous. You may think that if someone chooses to have children, they’re accepting the responsibility of them for life. On the other hand, you might say parents are only there to guide them into adulthood, at which point the roles should switch and the children should contribute. Whatever your answer, there’s no denying that Miranda July takes this question to the extreme in Kajillionaire, a film about a woman who was never truly her parent’s child.
26-year-old LA native Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) lives a peculiar life residing with her grifter parents in an old office that regularly fills with foam, making pennies at a time from various petty thefts and hare-brained schemes. This life is all she knows, and her parents intend on keeping it that way, using diversions and gaslighting to keep her from forming relationships with others so that they can continue to benefit from her labour. This dynamic shifts when, by chance, they meet a woman named Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) on a plane that irreversibly changes their lives. The plot might sound dark and unpleasant, and while that lurks under the surface, the tone is that of a Harold and Maude-esque dark comedy, though perhaps lacking in some of the universal poignancy Hal Ashby’s film manages to touch upon.
This kind of film really hinges on the performances, and luckily the four actors at the core of the film are fantastic. Rachel Wood is near unrecognisable as the bristly yet sincere Old Dolio, whose awkward posture and low register reminded me more than a little of Keanu Reeves as Ted Logan if he lived in a Wes Anderson movie. Rodriguez is an excellent foil as the breezy, charismatic Melanie, guiding Old Dolio with bubbly, seductive enthusiasm. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger have excellent chemistry as Old Dolio’s manipulative parents, and add enough comic timing to their roles to keep them from being too off-putting, drawing out venom at the most affecting of moments. July’s dialogue certainly plays a part in this well-oiled machine, with each character feeling entirely unique despite sharing a similarly stilted style of speech.
However, this doesn’t apply entirely to the arcs of the characters and how the tone of the film develops. Old Dolio’s coming of age is clearly at the heart of Kajillionaire, but Melanie is instrumental to this change, and in contrast her character felt entirely static. Rodriguez sells her perfectly, and I always wanted to see more of her, but at the close, it felt as though her story had gone somewhat unacknowledged in spite of her importance. The other main issue I had were the moments of distracting quirkiness that proved tough to reconcile with the rest of the plot – the suds that invade their apartment are a visually appealing set-piece, for instance, but felt arbitrarily cute, a motif as robust as the bubbles themselves.
Kajillionaire is a funny, surprisingly sweet-natured film that investigates exploitation, forgiveness, and the complex relationships we all have with our parents. I occasionally lamented that it didn’t have the scathing social critique of a film with a similar subject matter such as Parasite, but July’s writing and direction take a bizarre premise and make it work, even if I wish it had gotten less lost in the final stretch. Like Old Dolio inadvertently stealing a stuffed toy, I can’t complain, but I expected a little more going in.
Kajillionaire plays at the London Film Festival and is currently playing in select UK cinemas. It arrives on VOD in the US October 16.
You can read more of our LFF coverage here.
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