IMDB Link: Kajillionaire (2020)
Director: Miranda July
Writer: Miranda July
Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins
Synopsis: A woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning.
I want to start this review by pointing out some of the positives, before I delve into why this film didn’t work for me overall. The biggest positive that I can take from this film is the performances, and this is not just from one person. Evan Rachel Wood is certainly the star of the film, who is given such a complex character and does a fantastic job balancing all of the storylines and emotions that she has to in this film.
There is real heart within this film, and the story is at its strongest when it focuses on that human connection. The narrative of simply wanting to be loved by your parents, even if you do not realise that you are being deprived of that love, is incredibly strong. There is a sentimental message, and the film does try and give a conclusion to that which is simple, yet incredibly effective in the pay off.
There are individual scenes as well which are so well crafted and put together narratively. One scene in particular that is the stand out is a scene that, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I will simply describe as taking place in an old man’s house. This scene could play as a short film by itself and still work as effectively as it does here. The message this individual scene has, as well as the performances given by all four leads of the film, makes for a powerful and emotive scene which may just be one of the best of the entire year.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not live up to that scene or the story it wants to tell. Whilst the character development of the lead, Old Dolio (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is there, it leads to a lack of development for the rest of the characters around her. I simply felt disconnected from everyone else, unable to care about their motives, and feeling like caricatures that simply wouldn’t exist in this real world. Individual sequences, such as the dinner sequence, would have so much more impact if the characters just felt real and if their words actually had impact.
It is not just the characters that feel disconnected and caricature, but the whole plot and execution as well. From working in a bubble factory that requires cleaning, the performance from their landlord who just wants the rent to be paid, the heist that is taken on in the film. This may be a style choice to have awkward humour and this over-the-top narrative style, but it just makes the human aspects have a lot less impact than it should have. When scenes like the one in the old man’s house happen and the story goes down a darker and more serious route, the narrative lends itself to that which is what makes that moment so powerful.
I can also tell that the film wanted to explore more than what it showed. There is a storyline that is hinted at featuring Melanie (played by Gina Rodriguez) and her relationship with her mother. There is a strong parallel at play between how Melanie responds to her parents and how Old Dolio is treated by her ones, and yet this is only in very small moments that, once again, lack impact. The film is only 105 minutes long, so they could have easily added 15-20 minutes to further flesh out this storyline and add more to the character of Melanie, which would have perhaps given a stronger connection to her relationship with Old Dolio throughout the film.
There are great things about this film, and I can see why some people will enjoy what this film is saying and how it is presented. Whilst this is not a bad film, it was one that left me cold and disappointed. I wish I could recommend Kajillionaire more and give it a glowing review, as there is a solid film hidden away somewhere, but this is not for everyone. It may just be one of my biggest disappointments of 2020, even when the scenes I’m high on are some of the highest of the year.