Release Date – Friday 9th October 2020, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Director – Miranda July
A family of desperate small-time crooks/ cons need to raise $1,500 in a matter of days in order to pay their rent, bringing in a new, opinion-splitting, member (Gina Rodriguez) to the group
Often when we see a film open with a heist the situation is tense and dramatic. The protagonist, although worried, never breaks a sweat. Walking their way through the task step-by-step as if it’s second nature. They might get out in the nick of time just as security or the police arrive but they get away with it and prepare for another job. Kajillionaire begins in quite a different place. We see our central three figures hanging around outside a post office. The youngest of the group, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), waits for her time to shine, avoiding the security cameras with various press-ups and shuffles along the wall under the camera it’s clear that these aren’t your ordinary crooks. She walks in, getting into a locker and taking things in the compartments next to it, taking them for her parents that wait outside (played by Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger). It’s clear from the very start that the group don’t earn much, and it’s certainly not honest work, although it’s certainly amusing for the viewer to watch.
The family live in a small office, making their beds on the floor, next to a factory for Bubbles. Inc – soapy pink suds regularly drift down the back wall of the room, collected in bins and disposed of in the large shower room attached to the office. However, it seems likely that the trio are to be evicted soon if they don’t pay up the last three months of their rent – totalling $1,500 – to the attempting-to-be-strict owner of the factory (Mark Ivanir). And so they devise a plan to quickly earn the money through a lost baggage claim at an airport, where they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez). While the parental side of Jenkins’ and Winger’s Robert and Theresa welcome Melanie there’s a streak of jealousy and disappointment within Old Dolio as she sees them treat their new addition to the team in a way she’s never experienced.
There’s a welcoming edge to the film that brings you in to the world. Not like the welcome that Melanie receives, but one that puts you on the side of Old Dolio. Introduced to a world of theft and crime from the beginning, yet there’s part of her that’s unsure as to whether this is the right thing to do. It’s interesting to see her develop over the course of the film. While her jealousy and the catalyst for this development might be something along the lines of what we’ve seen before there’s something about the characters and how they stand out within a world that also stands out from our own, some have compared its feel slightly to that of Napoleon Dynamite – which from the indie perspective and some of the style this is understandable and links can be made – that brings you in to the world. Never poking fun at them, but allowing you to laugh at some of their actions, within a humorous context, and bringing you to their side even more, particularly that of Dolio and her increasingly conflicted nature when it comes to how she comes to the almost equally conflicting figure of Melanie.
There’s a lot to like within the film and the way that it tells its story, stemming from Miranda July’s screenplay, which, alongside the other elements of the piece, are fuelled further by her direction which helps give the film the flair and feel that it has. There’s humour and an overall likable nature that allows you to find more of that humour from the get go, as you are introduced to these people who aren’t trying to be big-time bank robbers or criminals. They just don’t have jobs, and don’t seem to want them; and they would likely admit that, instead they steal or try to sell things off for extra cash, spending their entire day doing so – one key scene sees Rachel Wood’s protagonist try to exchange a free massage voucher for initially a stereo and eventually some decorative rocks (no attempts are successful). Overall everything comes together to create an enjoyable piece with some interesting character points and figures that you do want to see develop over the course of the film, which they do. Much like the soap that floats down the wall of the office space the family sleep in it’s easy just to be caught up within the film and drift along with it.
Specific in tone and style Kajillionaire is fuelled by Miranda July’s screenplay and direction. It’s enjoyable and works easily, inviting you in early on for a funny look into the minds of these characters, one or two of them who are a bit more than just amateur thieves.