Review: Kajillionaire

Written and directed by Miranda July, a woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning. Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins, Diana Maria Riva, Patricia Belcher and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

First off, it needs to be said that yes, this film isn’t going to be for everyone and if you view the word ‘quirky’ as a negative then you should probably watch something else, going into this film with a distaste for the strange is only doing a disservice to everyone. You have to embrace its wonderfully weird nature from the get-go as it’s not going to give you time to ease into it. It’s impressive how strongly July builds that atmosphere within seconds, there’s a number of different touches that come together for one immense jungle of strange but what brings that air through so succinctly is Evan Rachel Wood’s Old Dolio.

There’s immediately such an ageless, indeterminable quality to her character, you can’t quite get a grasp on who she is, how old she is or if she has any sense of self-awareness, it’s extremely unusual and a pleasant change of pace. Wood’s performance is incomparable to almost anything, the cadence, body language and whole persona that she presents is perfectly unique, it’s so off-beat it’s almost on again. Old Dolio is constantly pulling herself so far inwards that Wood is always so tensed and hunched over, it may be extremely odd but at the same time it’s entirely relatable to anyone who struggles with social situations, anxiety, family issues, fitting in and a whole load more. Pairing her with Gina Rodriguez was a very smart move, the two of them shouldn’t necessarily work together but their characters are such polar opposites that they’re incredibly charming to watch. Seeing their will they or won’t they style romance play out is a very unique experience, it’s a romance that plays out in fits and starts as Old Dolio is so unfamiliar with its concept but watching Rodriguez’s Melanie guide her through the idea of something caring for her with such genuine generosity and kindness in a landscape of scams and theft is undeniably sweet.

Add to that mix the wonderful Richard Jenkins, playing his oddest role to date with partner in crime Debra Winger bringing a sincere lack of maternal instincts, and it’s an even better combination. The two of them create such a fantastic discomfort, they’re difficult to watch at times but it only plays into the humour and it’s genuinely impressive how far they go to be so consistently out of place and sincerely horrible people. Notable mention has to go to Da’Vine Joy Randolph for her performance as masseuse Jenny, it’s such delightfully random role but one plays into the story so well, she’s such a talented actress and she brings so much attitude and presence even given her brief performance.  

The writing is brilliant, just the creation of these characters alone is something distinctive but underneath its quirky outer layer is a simple story of not fitting in and needing to learn to treat yourself with respect. It takes a very winding and joyfully messy journey to get there but its intentions are wholesome, it has elements of a classic caper, romance, drama, comedy, it’s its own little microcosm of film and every aspect just makes it more entertaining. Surprisingly, it also has a strong vein of sadness running through it, you can’t help but to sympathise with Old Dolio and will for someone to love her and for her to become aware of the abuse she’s dealt with for so many years.

The story is so intentionally and successfully awkward and bumbling but what’s even more clever is that July’s direction is very suave and smooth, it has a really great movement about it, befitting that sly element of their deceptions and scams. The two working together create something with a very bright, sparkling energy, its story may be awkward and weird but none of that affects the extremely confident, stylish direction. It’s all wrapped neatly with a bow that is the consistently superb Emile Mosseri’s score, it really helps to bring through the emotions of the story and feeds into that energy the direction creates.

Kajillionaire is truly individual, it’s weird, it’s awkward, it’s quirky and it takes a little time to figure out how it all works together but as soon as it clicks, you see it for what it is, a lovely film full of crazy characters and an overriding message about acceptance and respect. Evan Rachel Wood gives an incredible performance that somehow both uses and compresses that inescapable charisma that she has, it’s such a unique character and she’s cleverly both difficult and easy to watch. Rodriguez, Jenkins and Winger are all such fantastic support, they create an utterly dysfunctional family and the romantic element is just the cherry on top. It will undoubtedly not work for everyone but if you can appreciate the beauty in its bizarre nature then you’ll find something wonderful.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Selected for this year’s London Film Festival as part of their ‘Laugh’ strand and in UK cinemas now

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