"Most people want to be kajillionaires. That's the dream. That's how they get you hooked."
Miranda July has a knack for creating unique style stories that center on uniquely stylized characters. Kajillionaire is no different. Though I've struggled to appreciate her work in the past, it's hard to deny her friendly and honest approach, especially here, even if it's partly a struggle to get there.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Old Dolio, a young petty criminal, who has stumbled through life with her parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) by her side. Deprived of any sincere form of human connection, she tirelessly works with her family to stick it to the man. They always split the results three-ways, no questions asked. It's their system, and for them, it works. That is, until her parents invite a newcomer (Gina Rodriguez) to join the ranks and assist with an upcoming "job."
Rough and raw from the onset, Kajillionaire bears July's style from start to finish. Centered on her characters, she constantly toys the line, offering up little to expand on or explain the world she has created by way of this exaggeratedly unusual family. There is never an understanding of their actions or a backstory to cement their viewpoints. Instead, the film opens with a routine post office heist, quickly setting the stage for the types of operations in play. An awkward and seemingly unnecessary somersault gets Old Dolio into the building to strategically reach into the neighboring mailbox for something as worthless as a tie.
July's writing, seamlessly elegant and natural, bears a sense of confidence that almost immediately earns our trust. Her characters, random and every bit peculiar, carry a smooth, practically tranquil energy as they navigate the world around them. Their emotional levels rarely fluctuate, noticeably anyways, making you continuously question their true spirit and intentions as they maneuver in and out of situations. It's an exhausting life, yet they bear no noticeable indication that they are struggling. It's an almost humorous position given that they have just received a self-imposed two-week deadline to pay their overdue rent.
Gina Rodriguez's Melanie, whom they meet during a multi-layered operation involving an airplane and several drinks, adds a bit of energy to the conversation. Her outgoing personality is in stark contrast to our primary players, making her an unusual accomplice that gives the film an unexpected spark while taking the narrative in a new direction.
What began as a character study of sorts transitions, almost unnoticeably, into a coming of age journey. The division is sharp but silent as Melanie begins to wedge herself, unknowingly, between the original trio. The connection between the two young ladies slowly develops, almost to a painful point of frustration. But alas, this is July's style. This is where she thrives.
As Old Dolio's birthday arrives and the newly formed quartet meets for dinner, something feels off. Unlike before, the family of three is at odds, trying to figure out their next move as they navigate their newly formed environment. It is here that we feel the kinship between Wood and Rodriguez. Honestly, it's the first time in the film we feel any level of connection as Melanie works to educate her new friend on what it means to be a family or even a friend.
The whole situation is tiresome, which you'd expect. Somehow, for the better part of the film, July can make the oddities seem natural. A true testament to her writing, the cast (minus Rodriguez) have tons to work with, navigating the rough terrain on both a physical and emotional level.
Though we never see it coming, Kajillionaire isn't about money at all. It's only a pretext to the real story involving a new found love and mutual respect between two people, one of which hardly understands the concept. It's a twisty-turvy ride, but for those who can hang on, July delivers beautifully, further cementing herself as a bold and innovative storyteller worth watching.