Sunday, February 06, 2022



Written and directed by Miranda July, Kajillionaire is the story of a young woman whose family takes part in schemes as they bring in a new person who is fascinated by their schemes leaving a major rupture in the family. The film is an exploration of family dynamics with this young woman being emotionally-stunted as she doesn’t understand the real world around her as this newcomer would help her see that. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, and Gina Rodriguez. Kajillionaire is a whimsical yet heartfelt film from Miranda July.

The film revolves around a family of scam artists who are trying to get money to pay their rent as they bring in an outsider to take part of their schemes as it would bring chaos to this family including their 26-year old daughter who doesn’t know much about affection or social skills. It is a film that explore a family who live on the fringes of society as they spend much of their life grifting and doing whatever they can to make money though the home they live in is often leaking due to construction next door as they’re trying to get money to pay their rent. Miranda July’s screenplay is straightforward in its narrative yet it is more of a character study of this family often spend their time doing these scams with their daughter Old Dolio Dyne (Evan Rachel Wood) doing much of the work despite her lack of social skills.

Her parents in Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) prefer to do scams as a way to live outside of society but things are getting tough until Old Dolio creates a scam involving contest tickets she won for a trip to NYC as it relates to a lost luggage and insurance money they can collect. Yet, things don’t go well until they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) on the flight back as she befriends them and takes part of their schemes as a way to do something where she is able to get them some money and such in ways that Old Dolio isn’t able to do. While Melanie’s contributions do make the family thriving and money, it would also alienate Old Dolio as Melanie would take notice as she becomes aware of the way Robert and Theresa behave towards their daughter as it is filled with a lot of complications.

July’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of its compositions and setting as it is largely shot in California to play into this world where it is becoming harder to scheme and grift for anyone who doesn’t live in conventional society. While there are wide shots that July has created whether it is to capture the scope of a location or the space of a room where the characters are in. Much of her direction is intimate with a lot of usage of medium shots while there are close-ups used sparingly to play into some of the emotional moments in the film. There are some quirky elements in the film such as how the Dyne family would hide from their landlord (Mark Ivanir) as well as how Old Dolio would enter the local post office through some maneuvering in order to not be seen by a camera. July also showcases how the family live in this office building that is leaking soap as they owe $1,500 in rent as it what motivates the family to try and scrounge up some money. There’s a scene in the second act where the Dyne family and Melanie go to the home of an ailing old man as he’s lying on his bed dying where he asks everyone to just bring some life to the house as it is this moment where everyone is just trying to give this man some comfort yet Robert and Theresa become more concerned with just getting money and then do something that is unexpected that would only add more discord in their relationship with Old Dolio.

July’s direction also play up into the fear with earthquake as it would be this metaphor for a family’s dynamic shaking up with Melanie kind of being the source of this shake up. Notably in a scene in its third act where Melanie and Old Dolio are in a gas station bathroom where a big earthquake happen as it’s shot completely in the dark where Old Dolio goes on a monologue about the idea of life with images of stars emerging. The aftermath of that scene has July shooting everything in one-take on a Steadicam tracking shot as it showcases a moment that is about Old Dolio’s reaction to what just happened. It is a moment that does showcase not just a world that opens for Old Dolio but also some revelations for Melanie who realizes how troubled Old Dolio is as she is someone who has been sheltered for far too long. Even as they also have to deal with Robert and Theresa where July brings up that air of ambiguity into whether the things they do are genuine or are they’re continuously playing a role. Overall, July crafts a witty yet compelling film about a family of scam artists who take in an outsider that would disrupt their lives and lifestyle.

Cinematographer Sebastian Wintero does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its emphasis on natural and available lighting with some stylish lighting for some of the daytime/nighttime interior scenes. Editor Jennifer Vecchiarello does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and humor. Production designer Sam Lisenco, with set decorator Devynne Lauchner and art director Jessica Shorten, does fantastic work with the look of the home that the Dyne family live as well as the home of the old man they steal from and Melanie’s home. Costume designer Jennifer Johnson does nice work with the costume from the green tracksuit jacket that Old Dolio wear along with her baggy clothes as well as the ragged look of Robert and Theresa and the more stylish clothing of Melanie.

Makeup artist Katalin Urszuly and hair stylist Cindy Welles do amazing work with the look of Old Dolio with her long hair as well as the ragged look of Theresa to make them look like a family. Visual effects supervisor John Stewart does terrific work with the film’s minimal visual effects in a few bits of set dressing for scenes in New York City as well as the darkened room scene where Old Dolio talks about the stars. Sound editor Bjorn Ole Schroeder and sound designer Kent Sparling do incredible work with the film’s sound in the way earthquakes tremble as well as other sounds from the construction next door to the sound of buses and other small moments as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Emile Mosseri is wonderful for its piano-based score with elements of ambient as it play into some of the humor but also in the somber moments in the film while music supervisor Gabe Hilfer create a soundtrack that features some music ranging from indie, hip-hop, and country with Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely being a prominent song as it play into Old Dolio’s emotional state.

The casting by Mark Bennett is superb as it feature some notable small roles and appearances in Adam Bartley as a hot tub salesman, Diana-Maria Riva in a dual role as the voice of Melanie’s mom and a birth teacher in Farida, Da’Vine Randolph as a masseuse whom Old Dolio tries to scam, Rachel Redleaf as a young pregnant woman passing flyers, Michael Twaine as a dying old man Melanie and the Dynes go to for a scam only to bring life to his house, Patricia Belcher and Kim Estes as a posh couple Old Dolio tries to scam, and Mark Ivanir in a terrific performance as the Dynes’ emotional landlord as a man who is trying to run construction of his soap factory who is just troubled by the Dynes’ inability to get him his money. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger are incredible in their respective roles as Robert and Theresa Dyne as a married couple who are scam artists as they prefer to not live in conventional society with Robert being someone who is trying to plan things and Theresa often being the one to make sure things are executed well as they bring some humor but also in also someone who prefer to hide their emotions.

Gina Rodriguez is remarkable as Melanie as a young woman Robert and Theresa meet on a flight back to California who takes part in their scams and get things done for them but becomes concerned about their motivations as well as the growing schism involving them and their daughter whom she befriends. Finally, there’s Evan Rachel Wood in a magnificent performance as Old Dolio Dyne as this emotionally-stunted woman who talks in a weird way as it is this haunting performance of this woman who knows how to perform a scam but is unable to deal with emotions and other things as she lack social skills. Wood’s performance also has this physicality that play into someone who has trained herself to do scams but is often still when it comes to the world outside of scams as it is definitely a career-defining performance for Wood.

Kajillionaire is a sensational film from Miranda July that features an outstanding leading performance from Evan Rachel Wood. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, and its exploration of family dynamics who live on the fringes of society. It is a film that is an unconventional heist film of sorts yet it is really a study of an emotionally-withdrawn family who use their daughter for scams only to bring an outsider to help them as it would bring a schism to the family dynamics. In the end, Kajillionaire is a spectacular film from Miranda July.

Miranda July Films: Me and You and Everyone We Know - The Future (2011 film)

© thevoid99 2022


Dell said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was such a weird movie most of the way through, but in the end, it's heartfelt, just as you say. It also contains some great performances, which always helps.

SJHoneywell said...

At one of my local libraries, the movies are arranged alphabetically, and this is always at the front of the Ks. I've been tempted, but now perhaps this has given me reason to dive in.

I do like Richard Jenkins, not just because he's a talented actor, but because he's a hometown guy and he comes back every now and then.

Brittani Burnham said...

I'm glad you liked this! It was such a gem from last year and Evan was so good.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-I was familiar with some of Miranda July's work yet this film I think is her most accessible as I just love the human drama of it as it was way better than the last film that July did which was fucking shit!

@SJHoneywell-Richard Jenkins is great in this as he's just a ball to watch. I like the fact that he comes back to your home town every now and then. That's good. Proud of his roots!

@Brittani-Evan should've been nominated for Best Actress as I think this is the best performance she's done in her career.