The new film from the director of “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” starring Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins and Gina Rodriguez, tells the story of an unconventional family that indulges in the strangest scams. Selected in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
El cine de Miranda July – a multimedia artist who returns to feature film nine years after her last film, THE FUTURE– is full of lonely beings looking for some kind of emotional connection. It is also set up based on curious and extravagant characters and events, somewhat out of what we could call conventional. All this comes together in an absolutely own, identifiable and finally emotional way in KAJILLIONAIRE, of those types of films that one knows just by seeing a couple of shots of which director he / she is.
KAJILLIONAIRE –Selected as part of the finally canceled Cannes Directors’ Fortnight– is perhaps even more eccentric than the previous ones, both in terms of its characters and in some notions of staging –and visual humor– that could well belong to a Jacques Tati film . The protagonists are the three members of a curious family from Los Angeles that is dedicated to trying to earn money in the strangest possible ways. The Dynes try to make small profits with all kinds of tricks: returning purchased products, stealing other people’s envelopes in the mail, using or reselling gift coupons, asking for rewards for products that they themselves steal and similar scams. They travel around the city on buses, they always dress in the same clothes, they live in a semi-abandoned office with rare leakage problems (you’ll see) and they treat each other in a totally professional way. «No tender feelingsThey say over and over again. No tender feelings.
Robert (Richard Jenkins) is the father, an obsessive one of those who see conspiracies everywhere and who waits for the great earthquake that will end everything. Theresa (a reappeared Debra Winger, who acted for many years in the series THE RANCH but he has made very little cinema in this century) is the mother, a dry and operative woman. And there is Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter, who is 26 years old and who functions as the “workforce” of the Dynes, since she is the one who usually puts the body in the traps that her parents organize. But the main thing goes through the relationship between the eccentric trio, which is absolutely devoid of affection, affection or even emotion.
KAJILLIONAIRE will focus, fundamentally, on Old Dolio, a girl who has grown up in that particular environment –and with a lot of at least striking customs– and who, from the appearance of a strange element in her family group, begins to realize that there are other ways of living and relating to people. And the one responsible is Melanie (Gina Rodríguez), a young, kind and outgoing woman that the Dynes meet in one of their most elaborate scams. The girl gains the trust of her parents (not so much that of Old Dolio, out of jealousy) and decides to join the family’s criminal activities, offering not only her contacts but also other – more empathetic – ways to achieve results.
As in all the July films, the peculiarities of the characters end up being secondary to their psychological and emotional problems. At times, in KAJILLIONAIRE, the director takes the extravagances of her protagonists almost to the extreme. And while that can sometimes remain in the gimmicky joke (see how they bend and contort to avoid being seen by the owner of their apartment to whom they owe several months of rent), in other ways they function as evidence and physical manifestations of those emotional problems. The clearest case is Old Dolio, which Wood interprets in an almost robotic way, with a very deep voice and without inflections. At first it seems like a curiosity, but then it reveals to be quite central to the character’s difficulties.
Fifteen years after his fascinating debut, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, July seems to rediscover his best ideas after that somewhat excessive misstep that had been THE FUTURE. The oddities are still there – in its own way, July is as specific and precise as Wes Anderson or Todd Solondz do – but all those disparate elements connect in a much more natural way here. And certain striking visual motifs, far from distracting, give the film a richness that reinforces its central themes.
The phrase “each family is a world” fits perfectly in this July film. Dynes may seem more excessive than the others, but all families work by their own rules and with a logic that can be very strange to others. The appearance of the charismatic Melanie generates a break in that structure by contrast – it is enough to see the opposite way in which they dress, they and she – but the fundamental thing about KAJILLIONAIRE It goes through the relationship between the characters and the world around them. The Dynes face him as an enemy, as an unmanageable problem that must be battled, deceived and, if possible, overcome. The journey of Old Dolio – that of July cinema in general – consists in beginning to be able to see it in a different way. There will be earthquakes that will hurt us, yes, but maybe we can survive them and learn to relate better with others.