Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is not exactly the image of your typical con artist. Nor is her name: Her parents named her after a homeless man who won the lottery hoping he would feel so honored, he would bequeath his fortune when he kicked the bucket. Apparently, Old Dolio senior had himself one heck of a goodbye party before cancer ate him up.
Old Dolio’s parents, Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins), never struck it rich either. They claim they were once straight, but now they’re a couple of cons with low aspirations. Twenty bucks here, a watch there, maybe a nice-looking rock they can hock. When the opportunity comes to graft $1,500, they’re a little skittish. You get the feeling they wouldn’t know what to do with the money if they got it. Maybe pay the rent, but probably not.
They live in an industrial part of Los Angeles, in an office building next to a bubble factory. Every day at 5 p.m., a mass of pink bubbles leaks through the gap between the ceiling and the wall. Robert, Theresa, and Old Dolio use buckets to clean up the mess, an arrangement they have with their landlord, Stovik (Mark Ivanir)—a man who cannot suppress his emotions. It’s a condition he assures his tenets. If only they didn’t try his patience so hard.
Then there are the earthquakes. Tremors, really: A condition of living in L.A. There’s about five of them in Kajillionaire, which is an embellishment even by movie standards. Live in L.A. for any period of time and you’re bound to feel a quake now and then. But if you live in Florida, you can count on at least one hurricane per year. So it goes. But here, writer/director Miranda July uses the tremors as premonitions and metaphors. The big one’s coming, and when it does, all things suppressed will bubble to the surface
When Kajillionaire debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January—two months before the coronavirus pandemic, four months before the killing of George Floyd, and seven months before forest fires engulfed the West and bathed the sky in a spooky orange—audiences probably thought the movie was a little quirky, maybe over the top. Now, nothing is.
Kajillionaire is July’s third feature. Like her previous two—Me and You and Everyone We Know (1998) and The Future (2011)—Kajillionaire is a wonderful interplay of light surfaces and dark recesses. And when a fourth, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), joins Robert, Theresa, and Old Dolio, the story threads tighten. It’s like Kajillionaire could get yoked in any direction—including two or three you hadn’t considered.
July isn’t a prolific filmmaker, but there’s a density to her work that rewards multiple viewings. That’s not to say the first pass doesn’t hold its share of magic. In all her movies, there are moments that come at you sideways and remind you how magical the medium can be. And how magical the world is—if only we can look past the mundane and the odd. Kajillionaire is odd: The kind that keeps you coming back for more.
Written and directed by Miranda July
Produced by Dede Gardner, Youree Henley, Jeremy Kleiner
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez
Focus Features, Rated R, Running time 104 minutes, Opened Sept. 25, 2020.
Header photo courtesy Matt Kennedy/Focus Features. A version of this review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 28, No. 6, “Thieves like us.”
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