Kajillionaire Movie Review
Funny until it isn’t, Miranda July’s quirky Kajillionaire, like its pathetic, desperate characters, seeks riches but never quite finds the spoils. Despite a crafty screenplay, convincingly offbeat performances, and colorful direction, the dramedy gets bogged down by its own trappings.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the socially awkward Old Dolio--yes, that’s her name--a young woman who sounds a lot like Elizabeth Holmes and whose parents act much like the embattled former executive, sociopaths with no parental warmth in their heart who will say and do anything to make ends meet. After spending her life assisting her parents doing low-level criminal deeds, she begins to realize she wants something else entirely.
Wood, as usual, is terrific, though her awkwardly deep, monotone voice and stilted mannerisms don’t add up to the type of performance that typically attracts attention. Equally excellent is Gina Rodriguez, whose vibrancy bounces off the walls in every scene.
And yet, together, the two make for an odd and not particularly likeable pairing, a couple of lost souls who have no real reason to coexist. As cleverly written as Kajillionaire is, July fails to nail down why Old Dolio and Rodriguez’s Melanie are drawn to one another, or why Melanie is finds intrigue in the life of lame crime, or why we should really care about any of them. Yes, Old Dolio has shitty parents and she’s an odd duck, and yes, Melanie may be a bit bored, but why does Melanie take a liking to OD in the first place? Why does she stick around? Why is she… attracted to her?
It feels at times like July is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
For a long while, though, Kajillionaire works wonders. As a quirky comedy, it’s surprisingly funny. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger, as Old Dolio’s parents, are amusingly weird and emotionally cold, their casual sociopathy endearing in many ways. July’s way of planting offbeat details throughout pays dividends, whether it’s colorful characters such as the family’s expressively depressed landlord (Mark Ivanir) or their ritualistic commitment to collecting the foam that seeps through their walls at scheduled hours throughout the day.
But when July shifts the movie into more serious mode, Kajillionaire loses much of its flare. The humor largely gone, the offputting nature of the characters--even Rodriguez’s--becomes more glaring. Movies don’t need likable characters, but at some point it clicked with me that I actively despised everyone in the story. Even Old Dolio. And yet July steers the story in a direction that implies this wasn’t her intention, that she didn’t intend for us to not give a damn about Old Dolio, Melanie, or their budding relationship (which, frankly, would have been more earnest had July not introduced sexuality into the mix).
Even still, Kajillionaire closes things out with a bang. Though the final product is far from perfect, July delivers a compelling and fresh story that deserves recognition, even if not from everyone. It would have played better as a straight comedy rather than something attempting to go deeper, but for the stretches where it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s worth it.
Just not for a kajillion dollars.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.