Outside of a pale blue Downtown Los Angeles post office a rumbling orange bus comes and goes. Staying perfectly still in the bright white sun are three of the most fabulously weird characters I’ve ever seen in film, and it’s just getting started.
Theresa (Debra Winger) lets her graying hair drape over her old patterned dress. Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) hides behind a curtain of red hair and a mountain made of tracksuit. Both have hair so long it’s impossible to tell when their last trim was, if it ever happened. Robert (Richard Jenkins) looks scruffier than his wife and daughter, all untucked shirt tails and baggy pants. Sure, they all look a little rag-tag but their most predominant shared trait is darting eyes, suspicious of everything and everyone in their path.
It isn’t long before we learn why they sneak everywhere with caution. Not only is the family wary of cameras, cellphones, and the government but they’re short on three months of rent. Instead of getting jobs, Robert and Theresa impart their knowledge of petty crime and general shadiness to Old Dolio, forgoing the idea of parental care to split everything they earn an even three ways. Ends never quite meet but they refuse to do anything that would actually produce a paycheck…or require a social security number.
Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) enters the scene right when Old Dolio has devised the most successful “heist” of her life thus far. With a chance to get a leg up on the missing rent, she isn’t keen for distractions. The sexual tension between the two is apparent from the beginning, even if Old Dolio has no idea what she’s feeling. Telling Melanie to “wear some clothes,” and flinching when their hands touch is a testament to her upbringing devoid of touch, or even “I love you’s.” This doesn’t slip past Melanie, the most perceptive of the four leads.
Melanie brings a deeply human touch to the absurd characters’ lives before she realizes what she’s getting herself into. While none of the characters had much of a backstory, I felt that Melanie’s character was lacking the most. Whether it was boredom, loneliness, curiosity or a combination of all three, the reason for her involvement is never really explained. She abruptly joins the weirdos, but as much as they needed her she seemed to need them a bit too. She risks her job (and life outside of a prison cell) to join the family on their money grubbing adventures, never gaining anything financially herself.
The hyperbolic situations in Kajillionaire are just weird enough to require some suspense of disbelief from the audience, and sprinkled some whimsy into the dark comedy throughout the film. We’re submerged into a world almost just like ours. One where a name like Old Dolio exists and is accepted. Where bubbles leak from the ceiling every day on the dot, and an earthquake tremor in a dark gas station bathroom inspires hysterics from a habitually monotone character.
At the end of the day a dichotomy of good and bad characters doesn’t exist in Kajillionaire. Who they are is who they are. And while some actions are tough to swallow, there isn’t a need for forgiveness when someone is being shamelessly, obliviously themselves. Each person is endearing in their own way, even when their intentions are less than admirable. But that’s the point, not everyone wants to be a kajillionaire, some are just happy to have found connection.
Kajillionaire was created by filmmaker Miranda July, a renaissance woman with various artistic mediums in her repertoire. According to her Sundance biography, July directed the Cannes Film Festival Camera d’Or winner The Future and Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). She wrote the books No One Belongs Here More Than You, and short story The First Bad Man. July’s artwork also includes a quirky, interactive sculpture garden for MOCA titled “Eleven Heavy Things.”
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