“Kajillionaire” – Old Dolio Dyne (Evan Rachel Wood), 26, frequently sports a clashing green and blue tracksuit – a polyester fashion nightmare that was probably last seen in 1982 – and lives a happy life with her two loving, supportive parents.
Well, scratch that last part.
Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) don’t exactly hold Old Dolio’s best interests in mind, either for the long term or in the immediate present. First of all, they named their only child after a homeless man, which would probably trigger any capable family therapist into a blustery tizzy. From there, Mom and Dad served hearty courses of emotional disinterest to their daughter for 2.6 decades, and their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Their kiddo carries her low self-worth through slumped shoulders and constant blank stares, and Old Dolio must have missed all the Miss Manners’ classes growing up. Her Laurie Partridge-hairstyle lacks panache, and she speaks like Napoleon Dynamite’s long-lost, lethargic sister. As one might expect, codependency with her folks is an on-going, dysfunctional issue, but perhaps she might break away and forge her fortune in writer/director Miranda July’s eccentric comedy-crime picture “Kajillionaire”.
Like July’s first two films, “Kajillionaire” is also set in everyday Los Angeles neighborhoods and filled with semi-neurotic characters trying to make it through their ordinary days. Even though it’s never spoken, July seems to imply that her on-screen players are products of today’s warped, plastic environments rather than peculiar rebels battling against accommodating, suburban utopias.
By 2020, it feels like 10 generations of maladjusted, defective history and straight-up bad luck have piled on the Dynes. This trio of hucksters are always desperately searching for any dubious financial cracks in the system, primarily to scrape together rent money.
They are three months behind (including the current rent) and need $1,500 and pronto, but hey, residing in the oddest apartment in Southern California has its monetary advantages. The nature of their living space will not be revealed here, but the triad has to “run the buckets” as a daily chore, a bizarre and nearly unwinnable task that loses its charm after 10 seconds.
Robert and Theresa don’t carry much charm, as they conjure assorted schemes – like stealing mail inside their local post office or attempting to trade a massage gift certificate for cash – on their directionless days in sunny Los Angeles, but Jenkins is a joy to watch as the short-sided patriarch who is chockfull of bad ideas. Meanwhile, Theresa is Robert’s chief enabler and willing contributor, and she possesses zero motherly instincts. She’d meet any Old Dolio-resistance to Robert’s questionable proposals with tough love mom-speak like, “Just eat your liverwurst, and don’t ask for dessert, because there isn’t any.”
Theresa purposely falls into the background, and frankly, Winger is entirely unrecognizable, as the film’s makeup and hair departments strip her of any soft, feminine features and add 60 years of hard-living and ever-present, low-level stress.
The Dynes broadly accept their hectic, makeshift ways, but a newcomer named Melanie Whitacre (Gina Rodriguez) – about Old Dolio’s age – stumbles into their world and shakes the foundation. At first, she’s a 4 on the Richter scale, but her ultimate influence could rise to a 9.2.
Still, the movie’s epicenter rides with Wood. She carries the nimble physicality of Inspector Jacques Clouseau along with the mental gymnastics of a 20-something attempting to redefine herself against a lifetime of deeply-flawed parenting. July immerses Old Dolio’s journey in her distinct filmmaker signatures, which fall somewhere between Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman. She’s closer to the “Synecdoche, New York” (2008) director, but her work delivers more laughs and less anarchy. Hey, that sounds like the right formula, because Old Dolio could use some chuckles and a little normalcy these days.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Focus Features; Trailer credits: Movie Coverage