Directed by: Miranda July
Premise: An eccentric couple (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) and their daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) get by with small con jobs. Struggling to pay their rent, the family goes in on a scam with a free spirited young woman (Gina Rodriguez).
What Works: Kajillionaire is an offbeat mix of comedy and drama. The film is partially a character study of a family trying to live outside the conventions of capitalist realities; they don’t hold jobs or homes and they deal in cash or bartering, trying to rig the system against itself. The trouble is that no one in the family is nearly as crafty as they believe they are and the family is constantly on the precipice of financial disaster. Kajillionaire is very funny but frequently in a cringe inducing way and the picture deals with some real issues about family relationships and late capitalism. The key to Kajillionaire’s success is its performances. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play the couple and they are convincing as a pair of eccentrics. Although they are ridiculous people, Jenkins and Winger play these characters in a way that is absent of any self-awareness. The parents are duplicitous people, constantly on the lookout for a new scam, and the couple’s every action is cause for suspicion. Kajillionaire is led by Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter and Wood is astonishing in how fully she inhabits her character. Concealed by long hair that obscures her face and baggy clothes that fit her like a trash bag, Wood’s character is a young woman whose personality is socially stunted and whose sense of reality is warped by her parent’s off-the-wall ideas. Wood conveys that inner life in her posture and voice but there is also a spark of self-awareness that gradually emerges over the course of the film. That quality is reflected in the story. Oftentimes in narrative moviemaking the filmmakers establish their protagonist’s objective within the first few minutes. The point of Kajillionaire develops slowly but deliberately over the course of the story and only becomes fully obvious in the film’s final stretch. It’s a risky storytelling decision but it works here.
What Doesn’t: The changes that Evan Rachel Wood’s protagonist goes through are pretty severe. From the beginning to the end of Kajillionaire her character faces new realities and sees her life, her family, and the world in a new light. It’s a bit of a stretch given the short time span of the story but the performances mostly smooth over any credibility questions.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Much like its central characters, Kajillionaire is a curious film. The picture includes a slate of impressive performances and an intelligent story that dig deeply into the characters and reveals something subtle but penetrating about human connection against a background of late capitalism.
Episode: #836 (January 24, 2021)