Kajillionaire (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Stuck with her small-time crook parents

“Kajillionaire” is as quirky and charming as you can expect from Miranda July, who previously delighted us with “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005) and “The Future” (2011). Like these two films, the movie often baffles us with a number of offbeat touches popping out from here and there on the screen, but we come to sense its warm, caring heart constantly beating under the surface, and we find ourselves unexpectedly touched around the eventual arrival point of its story and characters.

At the beginning, we are introduced to a young woman named Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) and her con artist parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger), and then we observe their latest criminal activity at a local post office. While Robert and Theresa are waiting outside as lookouts, Old Dolio enters the local post office and then steals some stuffs when nobody is watching her, and she and her parents later check whether these stuffs are good enough for getting some money to support them.

It is apparent to us that Robert and Theresa have committed small petty thefts and scams for years, and Old Dolio does not have any problem with that as an equal partner-in-crime for her parents, though she has not been particularly happy under Robert and Theresa’s rather toxic parenting. They have resided in one abandoned office of a shabby building in the serious need of repair, and Robert and Theresa do not provide any comfort or privacy at all to Old Dolio, who often looks awkward still feeling like an immature girl forced into her parents’ carefree criminal lifestyle.

And there comes an unexpected change into their daily life. The landlord of that shabby building, who has tolerated Robert and Theresa to some degree just because they have taken care of the constant problem of the building (It is one of several amusing running gags in the film, by the way), demands that they should pay all the delayed rent within a short period of time, and Old Dolio and her parents must find any possible way for solving this imminent problem of theirs.

Fortunately, Old Dolio comes to concoct a scam which may get them enough money to pay their rent before the deadline. She recently acquired free airplane tickets as a contest prize, and all they will have to do is having a round airplane trip between their city and New York City, after which they will probably get insurance money via a false claim on her ‘lost’ luggage.

As they go to New York City and then returns to their city, everything seems to go well for them except experiencing a turbulence more than once, but there is one problem waiting for them. Old Dolio’s claim is submitted and accepted without any trouble, but, alas, she is belatedly notified that she cannot get the insurance money right now because it takes some time for her claim to be processed in the system.

Meanwhile, Robert and Theresa come to befriend Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a pretty young woman they happened to encounter during the latter part of their round trip. Although she is a total stranger to them, they willingly reveal the details of their scam to her, and Melanie gladly gives some help to them as their ‘daughter’, probably because she really needs some fun and excitement in the midst of her mundane daily life.

Old Dolio initially does not like much how Melanie gradually becomes associated more with Robert and Theresa, but then she finds herself attracted to Melanie’s sunny vivacity and warm generosity. When Melanie suggests a plan for another scam, Theresa and Robert do not mind at all while their daughter reluctantly follows, and we later get a humorous scene where they and Melanie play house as requested by their latest target, who turns out to be a dying old man who has been quite lonely in his empty suburban house. As our four main characters are behaving like one happy middle-class family, Old Dolio becomes more aware of what has been absent throughout her whole life, and the mood between her and Melanie becomes a little playful when they start to act as if they were the lead characters of your average pornography flick.

Of course, the growing attraction between Old Dolio and Melanie leads to more adult awakenings for Old Dolio, and that naturally generates a tension between her and her parents, but the movie keeps dancing lightly from one delightfully odd moment to another as a part of narrative development. At one point later in the film, we are caught off guard by a sudden left turn, but what follows next is not only funny but also sort of sublime. This surely helps the story and characters being propelled toward the finale, which turns out to be more complex and poignant than expected thanks to the good performances from the four main cast members. While Rachel Evan Wood is commendable for ably embodying her character’s dowdy awkwardness as steadily maintaining the low-key tone of her performance, Gina Rodriguez complements Wood well with her irrepressible spirit, and Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger are equally solid in their colorful supporting roles.

In conclusion, “Kajillionaire” is another distinctive work from July, and you should not miss it especially if you enjoyed her previous two films. Although it may not be as special as “Me and You and Everyone We Know”, the movie has grown on me via its many charming moments since I watched it at last night, and I am willing to revisit it someday just for reminding myself again of what a distinguished filmmaker July is.

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