Has it really been so long since we’ve seen a Miranda July film?
It’s been nine years since her last film, Future, was released. Within the timeframe of that almost-decade, the world has changed. There’s almost a kind of quaintness to her cinematic sensibilities these days. Hers is a style that harkens back to the early years of this century, when narrative simplicity reigned and characters drove the arthouse. Nowadays bombast wins the battle. Even smaller films are laced with grit and darkness, perhaps as a reflection of where we’re at as a society.
But July remains the same. For her third film, Kajillionaire, the auteur stays strictly and completely within her lane. There’s a comforting familiarity there, one that fans of July will recognize and be blanketed by almost immediately. This is a film that could have existed for the last 15 or 20 years. That it only exists now feels almost immaterial.
Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio, the adult daughter of two struggling con-artists, Theresa and Robert (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins). Together, the three enact a series of low level schemes in the constant quest to stay ahead of the bills and catch up with rent, to little success. Despite their insular us-against-the-world attitudes, the crew is altered when Theresa and Robert bring in new member, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez). With the dynamics between daughter and parents now changed, Old Dolio begins to wonder if there’s not more to life than she’s been brought up to believe.
There’s a literary short story quality to Kajillionaire, as there is with all July’s films, which makes for unique cinema. July has never been one to adhere to standards, and it’s comforting to know she hasn’t lost that playful edge. July is, of course, inimitable as a writer, pulling from years of experience as an author and performance artist for all her films. As with her earlier works, Kajillionaire has quirk to spare, and July never holds it back.
This is perhaps most evident with Old Dolio, which is the character’s actual legal name, and not some con-artist pseudonym. Even this, we’re told, was a scheme on her parents’ part to try and be included in the will of an old homeless man who inexplicably came into some money late in life (it didn’t work). Old Dolio is the kind of sheepish, awkward teen who never grew out of her sheepish, awkward teen phase. Thanks to her parents, she is stuck in arrested development, unallowed to grow and become her own woman.
Wood plays this brilliantly. She is a woman torn between growing feelings of resentment and her need to please her parents. In this way, Kajillionaire is almost a deconstruction of the coming of age genre. After all, we don’t all just magically come into our own agency and adulthood at the wonderful age of 18. Some of us take longer. Some of us never get that. Wood and July have endless empathy for Old Dolio, which comes across perfectly in both the script and performance.
She’s balanced well by Rodriguez, who here plays something of the model for who and what Old Dolio wishes she could be. Rodriguez approaches the role with charm to spare, playing both with and against Wood’s performance to create a wholly realized and actualized individual whom you hope can lead Old Dolio towards the woman she wants to become.
While it certainly lacks the impact of July’s debut film, 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, Kajillionaire is still a wonderful respite of eccentricity in a world that’s increasingly rigid and dogmatic. One hopes that the wait for her next film isn’t almost a decade but, even if it is, it’ll be just as good to see then as it is now.
Kajillionaire is now playing in select theaters.