A family of petty criminals grift their way through life. They steal from post offices, steal property to return for rewards, and commit insurance fraud. The daughter Old Dolio Dyne (Evan Rachel Wood) seems distant from her parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger). Tensions rise when her parents involve a new person in their heist (Gina Rodriguez).
Kajillionaire is a quirky comedy that’s similar in style and humour to last year’s The Art of Self Defense. However it is potentially an even dark film than that. The crimes of the family range from petty to truly awful. The audience has an excellent surrogate in Gina Rodriguez’s Melanie who’s role is to properly contextualise the families bizarre and indifferent behaviour. But she has her own excellent timing and pathos.
The cast are excellent but it’s Evan Rachel Wood that stands out. Her comedic creation feels instantly iconic. She’s presenting as a 90s grunge teen with a voice that sounds like she’s trying to play a younger boy (think Pamela Aldon as Bobby Hill or Beth May as Ron Stampler if you’d prefer a more niche reference). She has this hilariously rigid physicality but her naivete and awkwardness makes her incredibly endearing. Wood knows exactly how to balance the huckster against the unloved child.
The focus of the film is family. There’s every indication that Old Dolio’s parents have chosen this lifestyle and forced their daughter to share their lifestyle. She has come to regard her parents as business partners who share risk and rewards but no affection. This is perhaps a film about living with parents who are addicted to an unhealthy lifestyle.
The film introduces setups that will build to fine comedic and emotionally significant moments. There are little call backs that suggest this will be a rewarding film to revisit, but the film is also planting seeds that will be significant in it’s larger story beats. The final sequence of the film would make no sense out of context but with the rules of communication between these odd family members fully explored, the message and motivation behind it are fully apparent and tragically beautiful.
Director Miranda July has expertly crafted this black comedy. It’s a wonderfully paced character study with fantastic performances throughout the cast. It’s also warm in an unaffectedly tough way and even sweet. It’s about a very unusual family and the immense struggle to find sincere methods of expression. Kajillionaire is one such expression.