Director Miranda July’s film is a beautifully strange amalgamation of humour and heartbreak.
Last Updated: 05.49 PM, Jan 14, 2022
A woman raised as a con artist by her detached parents longs for human touch. The trio meets an effervescent young woman on their way to another scam, who offers to help them out.
For those who may not be familiar with filmmaker Miranda July’s body of work, Kajillionaire is a revelation of staggering proportions. It is a visually rapturous and highly imaginative world that lures you to discover the wonderfully wacky characters that inhabit her minutely detailed world
Lanky and slouched, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is as unconventional as her name. She is cascaded with layers of clothes that hang about her frail frame, and her unusually long middle-parted sandy blonde hair. She has been raised a scammer by her curiously distant and cold parents. We are told she learnt to forge signatures before learning to write, she can bend her body in every possible way and has a keen eye for scanning CCTV cameras at departmental stores. But she craves tactility and warmth, the lack of which she realises for the first time when accidentally attending a class for new mothers.
Her parents, Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) have only ever known how to be adept at frisking and surviving on the bare minimum. They see affection as an impediment to practicality. They struggle to pay the rent to their accommodation, which is an unused office space at an abandoned factory with walls leaking a soapy, glittery pink sludge that the three must collect in buckets every evening to avoid flooding. They even named their only daughter on a homeless lottery winner hoping to claim his fortune.
So when Old Dolio finds her parents chumming it up with a vivacious, assertive young woman Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), she is consumed by jealousy. All she wants is to have pancakes, dance with abandon, crawl on a mother’s chest and be touched with kindness.
There is a certain daintiness and sensitivity with which July handles humour and heartbreak. Dolio shudders when a masseuse touches her for the first time, and tenderly plucks her friend’s false nails in a show of affection. In one particular scene, she starts moving her limbs to the song Mr Lonely. While visually her moves are meant to induce laughter, the exhilaration in Dolio’s eyes when she realises there is at least one person who sees her worth as more than being a scam artist, is like a serrated knife to the heart. At a time when the pandemic has brought our social interactions to a standstill, every word of kindness, pat on the back and forehead kiss is reassuring. And July locates such unusually tender moments in the regular lives of these quirky people.
July ably infuses her strange film with so much humanity that the strangeness never feels not normal. Gina Rodriguez’s Melanie may not have as many discernible oddities, but she is unpredictable enough to band together with a group of criminals. She is also lonely. She stares at the phone screen blankly as her mother religiously enlists all the activities she has partaken in through the day. She belongs to a conventionally loving family but is overcome by a sense of anchorlessness. Similarly, despite Robert and Theresa’s evident lack of parental instincts, they are never demonised. Love may be universal, the way it is communicated might not be. And July’s perceptive narrative celebrates every kind of love.
This film, which starts off as a caper comedy, surprises with every unexpected turn. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be born into a loving family. Some may die alone in a huge mansion with strangers pretending to be family, others might find family in a friend. But at the end of the day, all everyone wants is to connect. Kajillionaire simply assures that connections are easy to find, only if one is ready to extend their arm.