"Life is... nothing. Just let it go without really thinking about it. Like you're letting go of a... piece of string." - Old Dolio Dyne
Want to quickly gauge someone's perspective on indie cinema? Fetch their opinion on Kajillionaire, the 2020 film fest favorite by Miranda July. This inventive movie is beautifully strange, intriguingly awkward, and, in the end, surprisingly poignant.
Being "quirky" can be a risky proposition for a film. When done right, a quirky movie script can feel deliciously weird, giving voice to an artist's true talent. But if done wrongly, it can seem forced. Sitting through a "quirky" film that tries too hard can be downright excruciating. Fortunately, in the case of Kajillionaire, the peculiarity makes for a fiercely original work of art.
So, how odd is Kajillionaire? Well, to start, the movie's lead character is named "Old Dolio" (named after a famous hobo that won the lottery). Old Dolio Dyne and her parents live in an unused office space (complete with abandoned cubicles) in an industrial area of Los Angeles. The office shares a wall with a soap factory. Since the factory leaks, their apartment walls are constantly soaked by pink bubbles that drip slowly down the wall.
In addition to their insane living situation, Robert and Theresa Dyne treat Old Dolio like an adult, an equal, to be sure, but they also refuse to show her any tenderness or love. The Dyne family are low-level grifters that steal from post office boxes, run small cons, and try to devise get-rich schemes.
The Dynes have fallen behind on their rent, facing eviction if they can't come up with $1500 quickly. Old Dolio hatches a plan to steal $1500 in insurance money by claiming lost luggage on a round-trip flight. However, the scheme goes off the rails when they meet Melanie, played to perfection by Gina Rodriguez. Melanie takes to the strange family right away, especially Old Dolio. When the parents treat Melanie with the sympathy that should be afforded Old Dolio, a shift in the family's dynamic occurs.
The con-artist schemes, the peculiar dialogue, and eccentric situations put Kajillionaire squarely in the borderline surreal territory. Frequent earthquake tremors during the film help to keep the viewer off balance and remind them that the unexpected can happen at any moment.
This is an "anything can happen at any time" type of script. But somehow, along the way, this odd film turns into - dare I say it? A rom-com? And guess what? It works. There is a winding, unconventional path to the storyline. Yet, ultimately, July gets us to where she has intended all along: people need to connect with each other and share compassion. A movie about a dysfunctional family morphs into a romance, and all the strangeness makes a little more sense.
Audiences and critics frequently complain that movies aren't "unique" enough and that directors aren't taking enough chances. That may be true to some extent. Too many reboots, sequels, and "franchise" films gobble up all theater screens. But audiences (and we as critics) can do our part by seeking out strange films (like Kajillionaire) and giving them a fair shake. With so many options for streaming, finding the eccentrics (and I mean that in the most positive of ways) out there that need a little encouragement can definitely pay off.
Kajillionaire may not be for everyone, but if you're looking for an unforgettable film with a unique voice, this is a fantastic choice. Writer/Director Miranda July certainly drags moviegoers into the deep end with her strange characters and unusual storyline. And drifting out of the shallow end may feel a bit scary. But don't worry, the water's just fine out here. And to be honest, it's in the deep end where most of the fun invariably happens. (B+)
Directed by Miranda July
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, and Richard Jenkins
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Photo: Kajillionaire (2020). Focus Features.