Film review: ‘KAJILLIONAIRE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The latest film for writer/ director Miranda July (Me, You and Everyone We Know), the oddball comedy/ drama Kajillionaire is at first so irritatingly quirky, many will want to yell insults at the screen. Eventually – and we’re talking by about the last 20 minutes of the film – detractors should begin to embrace or least feel less enraged by its determinedly offbeat style.

Evan Rachel Wood, looking strangely like Nicole Kidman, plays the unusually named Old Dolio, the 20-something daughter of a family of unscrupulous grifters headed by Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger).  Used as a tool in her parents’ scams, the morose and monosyllabic Old Dolio secretly pines for a more normal and loving family.  This odd family dynamic is shaken up when the perky and astonishingly accepting Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) unexpectedly joins the group and develops an affection for Old Dolio.

The film has hints of last year’s breakthrough hit Parasite as it touches on issues of family, class, economic disparity and scamming as a cottage industry. Like the family in Parasite, this one also has a rather unusual home, an abandoned office beside a detergent factory that regularly threatens to submerge their meagre possessions in suds.

This film, however, has none of Parasite’s horror elements and little of its riveting artistry. Aesthetically, we’re in more low-budget American indie territory with its non-descript LA suburban setting.  The film does, however, make fine use of music including Angel Olsen covering Bobby Vinton’s ‘Mr Lonely’.

With its meandering and largely uneventful plot, depicting the weird minutiae of the family’s life, this film will have many asking where the hell it’s going and why should we care about any of this?. Eventually, as it begins to focus on Dolio’s disenchantment with her unusual life and the hopeful spark of Melanie’s appearance, the film generates a slither of empathy for them both although a feeling of detachment from their world largely remains.

In a performance that seems to draw on David Lynch characters as well as Napoleon Dynamite and Garth from Wayne’s World, Evan Rachel Wood is at least intriguing as the unfortunate Old Dolio. As her parents, Jenkins and an unrecognisable Deborah Winger are highly dislikeable but in a way that’s more irritating than fascinating or meaningful.  Some insight into their background was needed to give their strange and creepy characters context. As she does to the family, the irrepressible Gina Rodriguez adds much needed energy to this film.

Kajillionaire suffers from a curse afflicting many low budget American indie films in that its quirkiness outweighs its wit.  There’s nothing particularly funny or insightful about the way the film depicts these people.  Still, the fact that, by the end, there’s still something mysterious about this film makes it (just) worth a look.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Miranda July.

Release date: 22nd Oct 2020.

Running time: 104 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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