LFF 2020 – Absurdity and Affection in ‘Kajillionaire’

Although I had never seen any of Miranda July’s work prior to watching Kajillionaire, consider me hooked and eager to quench my thirst for her modes of storytelling. The deadpan humour, the imagery, the characters’ dynamic; it all really worked for me. Oozing pink bubbles, flight strangers and cunning plans made up the concoction for this piece and I was entertained throughout, to say the least. 

Set in California, Kajillionaire follow two hustlers, Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins), who have raised their daughter, named Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) after a homeless man that won the lottery, with the hope that he would add her into his will (he didn’t). Their performances had me crying with laughter one minute, then gobsmacked merely a minute later. 

Annapurna Pictures

Morals are nowhere to be seen from Old Dolio’s parents, but the struggle is plausible – it’s safe to say that these schemes to pay their overdue rent aren’t their first rodeo. From the get go we are told that these characters are scraping by, sniffing out the next financial opportunity yet forever hopeful that their luck will turn. They seemingly live minute by minute, travelling from job to job. Time is money, as they say.   

The dynamic is set up pretty quickly: as a trio they have various schemes of making quick coin which typically involves Old Dolio doing most of the work – stealing parcels, returning stolen items and scamming money out of travel insurance companies. It is during the latter plan that we are introduced to Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a well dressed and strongly desired woman who ends up giving Old Dolio the attention that she has been lacking her whole 26 years. Her parents immediately show interest in Melanie, treating her as the daughter they never had, while their real daughter has to grit her teeth and take it. Short term fixes and desires seem to be second nature to Theresa and Robert, but this doesn’t make their lack of devotion to Old Dolio any less gutting.  

Annapurna Pictures

It becomes heart wrenchingly clear that Old Dolio has never been touched in an affectionate way. When receiving a massage early in the film – from a failed cash-refund scheme – her whole body jerks with discomfort, to the point of tears. It’s as if she is having these realisations in real time, and after attending a childcare class for a quick $20 she begins to question her parents’ treatment towards her.   

As Melanie learns more about Old Dolio’s parents behaviour and their general views on the world around them, her drive to offer her some perspective is rather pure. She asks, “What makes them your parents?”. This indebtment that Old Dolio experiences is one I’m sure most can sympathise with. Even if it’s too late for her parents to change their ways, Melanie wants to help Old Dolio experience the life she has been lacking. 

Maybe I’m fascinated by affection between women on screen more so than the average person, but the bond between Melanie and Old Dolio is as confusing as it is beautiful. Old Dolio doesn’t feel comfortable with Melanie’s sexual expression – she’s never had a chance to explore her own. The lines between love and lust blur, the intimacy between them is full of sheer wonder. As a whole, refreshingly absurd but full of heart all the same. This is a film that I know will linger on my mind, and one that will be discussed for years to come. 

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