LFF 2020: Kajillionaire Review

Miranda July is unparalleled in her ability to explore intimacy in the most unique and captivating way. Her work, spanning back to the nineties covers a variety of mediums from performance, to books, to art, to film. She has covered all bases exploring how we connect with the people and the world around us. Kajillionaire is her third feature-length film and has all the markings of her signature idiosyncratic style. The daughter of two con-artists (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins), Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), is struggling to understand “tender feelings” due to an upbringing deprived of the seemingly mundane encounters attached to the traditional coming-of-age experience.

Her family crosses paths with Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) on a flight home to LA from an elaborate expedition in New York, semi-adopting her into their lifestyle. Old Dolio becomes enchanted by the way her parents, Robert and Theresa, cover Melanie with an affection denied from her since childhood.

(L to R) Richard Jenkins as "Robert Dyne", Debra Winger as "Theresa Dyne" and Evan Rachel Wood as "Old Dolio Dyne" in director Miranda July's KAJILLIONAIRE, a Focus Features release.
(L to R) Richard Jenkins as “Robert Dyne”, Debra Winger as “Theresa Dyne” and Evan Rachel Wood as “Old Dolio Dyne” in director Miranda July’s KAJILLIONAIRE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Focus Features

Miranda July understands the most intimate parts of feelings, in a way we’re not used to confronting. She delicately paints moments with music from Emile Mosseri’s dreamy score that allows us to witness the actual act of emotion, inviting us to feel her hand as she gently conducts this world we’re not used to perceiving. People often refer to July’s work with words like ‘quirky’ and ‘twee’, but perhaps we feel this way because we’re uncomfortable with being seen so clearly.

Kajillionaire is a study of transactional relationships and the way we deny ourselves the radical act of unconditional love. Old Dolio has spent her whole life feeling like a prop in her parent’s game, and when Melanie arrives, it beckons her to see herself beyond the hand she has been dealt. July does this without ever blaming Theresa and Robert, right down to the final minute. She understands the way humans inevitably fail to comprehend the intricacies of love languages, and that sometimes we stumble on our journey to showing others love in the way they need as opposed to the way we know.

Jenkins, Winger, Wood and Rodriguez come alive together, and watching them indulge fully in July’s vision, and fall seamlessly into syncopation, is the real thrill of Kajillionaire. Wood’s ability to exhibit the longing we feel when we watch others do life, and question why we aren’t the same way, is something special. The work she put into building such a vibrant inner life for a character that could’ve become a caricature truly pays off.

Verdict

Kajillionaire is an excellent example of the power held in the collective experience of cinema-going. I imagine it feels even more breath-taking when surrounded by an audience who are feeling and thinking and judging in their own way. With cinema closure being a rising threat, it makes Kajillionaire‘s release bittersweet – should you feel comfortable, it would be quite the gift to be amongst people for those 105 minutes, laugh, laugh laughing and cry, cry crying together.

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