SUNDANCE REVIEW: Who Wants to be a ‘Kajillionaire’ (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“It’s about what it means to be a human coexisting with other humans, and how that could all be over in a second.”

Fresh off the announcement that her breakout indie feature film Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) will join the Criterion Collection in April 2020, as well as the launch of a retrospective book spanning her entire career, Miranda July’s latest film, Kajillionaire, screened at Sundance 2020. Kajillionaire defamiliarizes the world around us by telling the story of a mother, a father, and their daughter living in Los Angeles as they struggle to pay the rent on their basement apartment that oozes pink foamy goo once a day due to the questionable practices of a nearby plant. The family of con artists is waiting for the end times, most likely through an earthquake. They reject material temptations and survive through both large and small scams instead of living within the confines of society. 

Every aspect of Kajillionaire exudes that special Miranda July brand of weirdness that her fans love and her critics often deride as “pretentious,” even though she is so earnest in her art it is sometimes physically painful. However, this will mark the first film of July’s which she does not appear in. The film is driven by the repressed yearning of Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), named after a homeless man her parents met once; she is one of the most mysterious yet honest figures in recent cinematic memory. Marked by anxiety and shame, Old Dolio sees the world much differently than we do, as she moves through the world doing her best to take up as little space as humanly possible. This method of living was taught to her by her parents who live their lives by the belief that people who lust after material goods are inferior. “Everyone wants to be a kajillionaire,” Old Dolio’s father (Richard Jenkins) says mockingly, insinuating that it is negative for Old Dolio to want better for herself. Her mother (Debra Winger) is even more cruel at times. As with all deeply held beliefs, this idea extends into their parenting strategy to the point that they starve Old Dolio of intimacy and normal early developmental experiences. All Old Dolio knows is to be anxious, hide herself from the world, lie, and scoop pink goo off the walls. However, all this soon changes when her parents involve outsider Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) into their biggest heist yet.

Old Dolio and Melanie’s relationship may follow the classic enemies to begrudging friends to lovers development, but July has infused the narrative with so much compassion that it feels like a story audiences have never seen before. At one point in a gas station bathroom, during an earthquake, their relationship experiences a shift so existential and bizarre, that it will surely work for some viewers but not for others. It’s a scene that will go down in the quintessential Miranda July history books, right next to “pooping back and forth forever.” Evan Rachel Wood completely disappears into Old Dolio’s long sandy hair and baggy clothes to the point that she is almost unrecognizable, save for her fierce blue eyes crying out for an escape she will not allow herself. The heart of the film lies at the intersection of whether or not Old Dolio will take that leap of faith. 

Kajillionaire is not merely about a bizarre family of scammers. It’s about the hopeful but also scary idea that you are not predestined to become your parents, and it’s about the terrifying notion that you have to be perceived in order to be loved. It’s about rebirth. It’s about what it means to be a human coexisting with other humans, and how that could all be over in a second. 

Dir: Miranda July

Prod: Brad Pitt, Megan Ellison, Dede Gardner, Youree Henley, Jeremy Kleiner, Jillian Longnecker, Amber Sealey

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins

Available At: Release date unknown at this time