Evan Rachel Wood as Old Dolio Dyne
Richard Jenkins as Robert Dyne
Debra Winger as Theresa Dyne
Gina Rodriguez as Melanie Whitacre
Mark Ivanir as Stovik Mann
Rachel Redleaf as Kelli Medford
Written & Directed by Miranda July
These days it feels rare for a truly original film to come along that also proves to be a real brilliant work, with most either borrowing from previous works, adapting or remaking stories or leaning into the best areas of their genres to create an entertaining affair, and yet when a film as incredible, intelligent and powerful as Miranda July’s Kajillionaire arrives it truly instills in me a renewed sense of awe and wonder in the magic of even the smallest corners of the filmmaking world.
Con-artists Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) have spent 26 years training their only daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), to swindle, scam, and steal at every opportunity. During a desperate, hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger (Gina Rodriguez) into joining their family, only to have their entire world turned upside down.
From the opening moments of the film to its closing credits, the film takes every perceived moment of predictability and consistently subverts expectations for its tricky balance of somewhat coming-of-age comedy, heist thrills and modern feminist drama. In the best way imaginable, it was hard to ever be able to see what was coming next for its quiet and awkward central character, with every step forward feeling like it was setting up five steps back and never allowing audiences determine which until it was already happening.
Much of this brilliance and uniqueness comes to life thanks to the profound, moving and outrageous script written by July that has set quite a high bar for her next project while also establishing that she is no longer a talent to ignore behind the camera. The film’s deft exploration of everything from the Me Too movement to the tragic results of damaged parenting to existentialism and bizarre corners of its Southern California setting, it’s a film that frequently bounced back and forth between causing me to burst out into hysterical laughter and bringing me to tears at its breathtaking character development and offbeat plot points.
Along with her incredible writing, July’s directorial eye is a truly beautiful sight to behold, simultaneously giving the film a drained look of color as Old Dolio is practically under her parents’ captivity while also highlighting the film in a beautiful color palette that makes every frame truly mesmerizing. With her background as a live performance artist as well as an actor and director, the 46-year-old filmmaker has clearly transferred her assortment of talents to the director’s chair and brought an incredible energy to the film that keeps viewers hooked.
The material is further elevated thanks to the transcendent lead performance Evan Rachel Wood, arguably the best of her career thus far, as well as fantastic performances from Rodriguez, Jenkins and Winger. The Westworld star truly taps into the raw vulnerability and heartbreaking aspects of Old Dolio that makes it all the easier for audiences to connect and empathize with her situation and root for every step forward to maintain, while the Carmen Sandiego lead proves to be a magnificent foil for Wood’s protagonist, someone with a true appreciation for life and simultaneous grip on her identity while looking for her sense of purpose. The bond that blooms between the two as Melanie opens Old Dolio’s eyes to the wonders of the world apart from her overbearing and problematic parents is such a compelling thing to watch and the performances from the two only further cements its organic and believable sensibilities.
Kajillionaire has come along at just the right moment, infusing the modern cinema world with a moving, hilarious and truly original work of art that is bolstered by the outstanding work both in front of and behind the camera and has established itself as one of the best films of the year.