Movie Review: KAJILLIONAIRE Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger
So often, films explore the importance of family. You are born into a tribe and beholden to them until the day you die. But what if they are no good for you? Where was your choice in the matter, and what if staying with them is the worst thing for you?
In Kajillionaire, written and directed by Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), Even Rachel Wood plays “Old Dolio” (yes, that is her character’s real name) – daughter to two loony con artists, Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger). They named her after a rich, dying man in hopes that he would leave her (but really, them) inheritance. That didn’t work out, and Old Dolio was stuck with the monicker.
The family lives in the office space of a bubble factory on the cheap, with daily reminders of when to clean the leaking walls of pink foam from the machines above. Rent is even cheaper when you factor in that they rarely pay it, sneaking past their landlord (Mark Ivanir) every morning by ducking under the wall of the area he is renovating – in almost a choreographed movement that comes as second nature to them.
We see the families scams that hardly pay and eventually, those start to dry up too. Finally push comes to shove when their landlord threatens them with eviction and gives them until Friday (which is stretched into two weeks by the quick-talking Jenkins) to come up with their past-due rent. If they want to stay in their “home,” they need to think of something big – and quick.
While playing out a con that Old Dolio devised – only listening to her ideas as a last resort – they meet an outsider that becomes interested in their way of life. Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) is taken in by Robert and Theresa, and their real daughter starts to realize how little attention and affection she is paid by them. Melanie also starts to realize how terrible the two of them are, and forms a plan to help Old Dolio break free of her toxic parents.
Even Rachel Wood is fantastic in the role, a much quieter and dressed-down character than her recent turn as Dolores in the HBO series Westworld. The film is a great reminder of her range that we’ve seen over the years from Thirteen and Across the Universe, to True Blood and the aforementioned series. Old Dolio has been broken and mistreated by her parents, so much to the extent that the thought of human physical contact disgusts her. The actor does a great job of presenting how hurt she is, and watching her start to find herself makes for an exhilarating journey.
When it comes to Richard Jenkins, anything he’s attached to has me excited to watch. He’s brilliant as always here, in a role you love to hate. In addition to his cons, he is also the paranoid type who wants to live off the grid and far from any way the government can track him. He and Winger are both fantastically terrible together, making all the wrong choices and keeping their daughter back from any true happiness she might find.
Gina Rodriguez is the voice of reason, and also the audience surrogate that comes in from the outside and shakes things up for the family. She and Wood are great together, especially as Old Dolio starts to open up to her. Her character will keep you guessing, and she does a good job keeping you are arm’s length herself with her intentions.
Kajillionaire is a quirky, funny, and heartfelt character study, and examination of family dynamics and what life is like for those who are just squeaking by. Excellent performances and a tight script keep things interesting and quite entertaining. It’s nearly impossible to look away from what could spell disaster for the characters at any moment, and you are rooting for Old Dolio from start to finish.
KAJILLIONAIRE is now playing in select theaters.