In KAJILLIONAIRE Probably the most bizarre gang of thieves in film history regularly commits anything but exciting thefts. The result is a film that can hardly be pigeonholed. And the closest one has the Oscar winner “Parasite”. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Kajillionaire (USA 2020)
The life of 26-year-old Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is much more bizarre than that of other young women. Since she was a child, her parents, the solitary con artists Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins), have trained her to take advantage of every opportunity to cheat and steal. Together, the strange family cheats their way through a largely uneventful life. But the bon vivant’s meticulously planned everyday life is thrown into disarray when they bring the lovably spirited Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) on board for their next coup, which turns Old Dolio’s manageable world upside down. Because while Melanie, who grew up in a sheltered manner, clearly enjoys the tingling excitement of trick theft, the emotionally neglected Old Dolio suddenly begins to long for the warmth of a traditional family.
Last year, the South Korean thriller comedy “Parasite” started an unprecedented triumph through cinemas around the world. The crowning achievement, in addition to various outstanding critics’ analyzes and the currently highest overall rating of a film on the film lover platform Letterboxd: the Oscar in the premier category of “Best Film”. For the first time ever, a film from Asia went to the beginning of 2020. A film like “Parasite” – quite a lot of people quickly agreed – will never happen again. Or does it? Well, on the one hand there is Osker Roehler’s “LOVELY TIMES”, a no less biting social satire from 2018, in which a well-off couple is also confronted with supposedly low-ranking intruders from outside, whereupon the social classes are mixed up all over the place. And now there is also Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire”, for which the filmmaker comes up with a similarly bizarre starting scenario as director Bong Joon Ho, but then uses this to create a heist movie of a slightly different kind. An influence from “Parasite” cannot be assumed simply because Miranda July began writing her film at the end of 2017 and shooting it in mid-2018, but she and Joon Ho share a fascination for the family as a community of life artists. With the subtle difference that the family in “Parasite” looks up to the rich with fascination, while Old Dolio and her parents hardly have any serious motivation to say goodbye to their precarious living conditions at some point.
Debra Winger is Theresa, Evan Rachel Wood is Old Dolio and Richard Jenkins is Robert. Together they are the Dyne family.
The Urban Dictionary describes a “kajillion” as an unspecified amount of money. As a Kajillionaire you can either be really rich or dirt poor, as long as you only have a few coins to call your own. The term “Kajillionaire” says nothing at all about the material situation of the title holder. This fits in with the generally very broad characterization of the protagonist family Dyne, whose motivation for the many small and very small crimes is not immediately clear. When we watch Old Dolio and her parents Theresa and Robert in one of the first scenes in front of a post office, planning their next coup (which in this case means that Old Dolio opens a locker with a key and then from the inside out into the neighboring ones lockers in the hope that there is something worth stealing there), then the young woman first makes a few crude contortions on her way to the post office, as one would expect from a super spy – which is completely out of proportion to the fact that that the “loot” this time is only worth a few euros. Even the warning that the family needs to be more wary of the surveillance cameras seems like exaggerated scaremongering – the crook family could probably walk into the branch with their heads held high and no one would care about them.
“And now there is also Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire”, for which the filmmaker comes up with a similarly bizarre starting scenario as director Bong Joon Ho in “Parasite”, but then uses this to create a heist movie of a slightly different kind.”
It doesn’t stop at this one bizarre scene. Instead, “Kajillionaire” sees itself as a whole collection of strange things. Miranda July also looks at how these bizarre situations affect those around the Dynes: The fact that Old Dolio and her parents set their alarm several times a day to use plastic buckets to catch foam suddenly seeping through their apartment walls is just the eccentric answer Bong Joon Ho’s insecticide spray odysseys. As bizarre as the situation may seem, it accurately describes the Dynes’ precarious living conditions – and even for them the three-member gang can barely raise enough money. The fact that her landlord knows about the foam situation makes this scenario one of the few in reality; Old Dolio’s acrobatic approaches, a raid on the house of an old, bedridden man who wants the intruders to make a few everyday noises to combat his loneliness, or a scene in a public toilet, from which the entire tone of the film suddenly changes, are staged always just over-stylized enough to be revealed as a dream or fantasy in the next moment. “Kajillionaire” is not an outward depiction of reality, although at its core Miranda July tells of deep-rooted, human fears and feelings. Even if the filmmaker now and then runs the risk of losing sight of the emotional core of her story in favor of even more bizarreness. It starts with the eccentric appearance of the main characters and ends with the fact that even the most unimportant supporting character (example: landlord) is given some amusing whimsy. Sometimes less is more.
Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) and her new friend Old Dolio.
But the pink foam and the oversized jogging suits essentially obscure the portrait of a gradually broken family. Miranda July raises the question of what exactly it takes to be a family. “We divide everything by three!” says Old Dolio once and describes herself not as a daughter, but as an accomplice. For her mother, her duty is fulfilled by dividing the spoils fairly. On the other hand, she considers birthday presents and pet names to be unimportant frills, because such things would only unnecessarily distract the girl from her work. Hard words from Debra Winger (“Time of tenderness”) and Richard Jenkins (“Shape of Water – The Whisper of Water”) hardly have any gestures of love and affection to counteract. It’s difficult to find access to both of them. Especially because there are hardly any scenes in which the two of them do not interact with their daughter and it would therefore be possible to judge them independently of their (misunderstood) parental role. Only in the last third does July devote herself to purification; However, it is also done in the “Kajillionaire” style – and always in such a way that one could assume that their film only amounts to one big coup. It’s not for nothing that newcomer Melanie says that her favorite films are the “Ocean’s” films.
“But the pink foam and the oversized jogging suits essentially obscure the portrait of a gradually broken family.”
Gina Rodríguez (“extinction”) Next to Evan Rachel Wood, who is completely lacking in physical tension and self-confidence, she appears to be in keeping with her role (“Thirteen”) like a whirlwind from another movie. Her enthusiasm for the Dyne family is absolutely contagious, although aside from her love of heist movies, you can’t really explain where that comes from. Overall, we learn very little about her character and also about the extent to which she even perceives her strange appearance as such. However, at least for the final emotional punch, this is not necessary at all. It’s enough for us to see her interacting with Evan Rachel Wood and how she teaches a life artist a little something about life.
Conclusion: Every now and then, “Kajillionaire” runs the risk of being absurd for absurdity’s sake, without it particularly enriching the film’s content. Despite this – or precisely because of this – Miranda July delivers a tragicomic film whose characters and story are comparable to hardly any other film.
“Kajillionaire” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 22nd.