‘Kajillionaire’ review: Evan Rachel Wood joins a family of low-rent swindlers

In writer-director Miranda July's big-screen comeback, quirk is king

Miranda July might have made her name with acclaimed 2005 comedy Me and You and Everyone We Know, but the indie auteur has only directed one movie since (2011’s The Future). On the evidence of new film Kajillionaire, we should all try and persuade her to become more prolific.

Set in Los Angeles, Kajillionaire is about a family of three con artists as emotionally dysfunctional as they are criminal. Father Robert (The Shape Of Water‘s Richard Jenkins), mother Theresa (Debra Winger) and daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) steal from the post office and live in a seedy office complex in a down-at-heel part of the city. The unlikeable trio live next door to Bubble Inc – an industrial complex which oozes pink foam through the wall of their insalubrious abode – but are so ineffective at earning money from their scams that they owe $1,500 back rent and face imminent eviction.

Robert and Teresa treat Old Dolio less like a daughter and more like a junior employee. There’s no real affection, care or love, with Old Dolio’s upbringing an absence of parties, presents and apparently friends. When the trio profit from a con, they split the financial proceedings though there is a constant feeling the parents are also conning the child out of more than just basic parental decency.

When Old Dolio concocts an airline luggage scam to help pay off their debts, they meet Melanie (Annihilation‘s Gina Rodriguez), who soon becomes involved in their racket, in spite of her initial facade of propriety. Melanie and Old Dolio become friends and slowly, the gauche, scared daughter comes out of her shell.

Kajillionaire
Old’s parents often force her to take part in their scams. Credit: Universal

Wood, so good as the lead in sci-fi smash Westworld, though more familiar to a much younger audience through her voiceover work on Frozen II, is excellent. Bizarrely deep-voiced, awkward and naive, she is childlike though not an innocent. Rodriguez is a great counterpoint, with Melanie providing the love Old Dolio never had. Winger is delicious as a very un-maternal screen mum, while Jenkins puts in a hilarious turn that is creepily unpleasant.

After years in the cinematic wilderness, con-artist films are having a mini moment. From Oscar-nominated 2018 drama Can You Ever Forgive Me? to the class-war skulduggery of Parasite, the big-screen swindle is on. Kajillionaire offers something different again. It’s a strange, refreshingly unique movie that will leave viewers happier to have seen it.

Details

  • Director: Miranda July
  • Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger
  • Release date: October 22
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