No one’s parents are perfect. But in Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) really push the limit of what any child should have to put up with. Or rather, do without. Stepping back behind the camera for her first feature since 2011’s The Future, the multi-talented writer-director plays the long con in an LA heist movie like no other which stops, starts and to some extent frustrates before its big pay out.
“This is not a cheap tie,” says Robert, admiring a post office safety deposit snatch that his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) makes in the opening moments; she also has a receipt that will match the soft toy she grabbed, so that’s another few dollars for the piggy bank. No scheme or scam is too small for this unlikely trio of grifters: coupons, online giveaways, a gift voucher for an hour’s massage. If there’s a buck – or even fifty cents – to be made, then there’s an angle to be played, or traded, or exchanged. Anything.
As watches are synchronised and their best Ministry of Silly Walks impression is deployed to avoid the gaze of a weeping landlord to whom rent is owed, we laugh at this family unit’s oddity rather than with them. But deep pathos is found in their self-deluding, pitiful existence. Living on the floor of an office building adjacent to Bubbles Inc., a soapy, candyfloss-coloured mess oozes through the adjoining wall at regular intervals and must be bucketed and disposed of. It sounds ridiculous, and it is.
And at first, we’re not too sure whether there is any method to their madness. However, a person’s worth in America is measured in $$$ and what you do and the things you own, so a life spent to the tune of hold music on a competition hotline does not sound much like success. It’s a screwball take on materialism, on capitalism, of being stuck living day to day, but one that rings true and rings hollow for these hapless con artists. Eking out the most meagre of existences, when we learn that Robert and Theresa named their daughter Old Dolio after a homeless man that won the lottery in the hope he would name her in his will, it seems aptly tragic.
They may share everything three-ways, but what future is there for any of them living this way? And is sharing even caring? It’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, but perhaps this apple would like to roam. At 26, Old Dolio sounds like a depressed Jay and dresses like Silent Bob, hates to be touched, hides behind long strawberry blond curtains, and when attending a maternity class in another’s place (for €20, of course), she learns just how severely lacking her life has been in any kind of love or tenderness. A chance meeting with Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) will alter their course completely, and with frequent tremors hitting Los Angeles, the ground shifts beneath their feet in more ways than one.
To give away any more would spoil the madness of it all: there are cringy moments, there are crass and downright shameful moments, there’s a lot that makes no sense whatsoever, and there are peaks and troughs of emotion you will not see coming. Having penned the script herself, July trusts her four actors to provide the goods, which they do. The director is left to concentrate on the construction of this haphazard, seat of their pants, wing and a prayer lottery of a film. And though it feels like it shouldn’t work, it really, really does.
Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63