Written by: Miranda July
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins
We don’t get the chance to choose our biological parents, they choose us for better or worse. This means we inherit their good and bad features along with having to live with the way they decide to parent. Kajillionaire presents an intriguing look at how a particular family goes about their way of living and with all of its weirdness and peculiarity, this feature can definitely be defined as original.
Still living with her parents in an office building next to a soap factory, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) survives by pulling off scams, thieving, and anything else just to make ends meet. With them owing back rent, Old Dolio devises a plan for all three of them to make some travel insurance money, but during the trip, they get introduced to someone else, who receives the type of affection she has always sought from her parents.
The way Old Dolio’s parents chose to parent her does not resemble the common way seen in media, but neither is anything about their lives. Perpetually unkept and odd in everything they do, it makes sense Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) view their daughter more like a business associate than their child. As the film progresses, it simply presents the reality that these two are only able to provide so much on an emotional level to their daughter and the narrative tries to break down why it’s not the end of the world were this the case for anyone else.
Examining this story shows that not everyone should be a parent because it demonstrates that succeeding in this realm becomes about more than providing shelter and food. Humans are emotional creatures at the end of the day meaning some sort of connection must occur in this area. In the case of Old Dolio, she had no idea what this could look like before the introduction of Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) into the narrative. The way Robert and Theresa treat this stranger, who also has the appetite for some manipulation and deception, opens up a gaping hole Old Dolio never knew existed by showing how her parents have failed to provide in an emotional manner throughout her entire life. Now at 26 years old, it becomes a bit ridiculous.
The stunting of Old Dolio’s emotional growth has her unable to get a job where she can find consistent income, but also find any sense of independence from them as well. It’s what makes the introduction of Melanie in the story so monumental for all parties involved. While it may be easy to blame Robert and Theresa for this, Kajillionaire takes a more sympathetic approach to its characters in trying to comprehend their decision-making. The parents make their point of view incredibly clear, with the film’s thesis essentially landing on just because these two individuals can physically reproduce does not mean they will be great parents. That never comes as part of the deal of having a child. They provide the necessary functions for their child to live, but they received no formal education on how to provide for their child on an emotional level and if they cannot naturally do it, would it be too harsh to fully expect them to?
Miranda July really crafts something quite impactful here in this film when looking at the themes of it all but where it does not quite excel comes from the presentation of it all. Now, when watching a film made by Miranda July, one should expect some level of weirdness in her storytelling style, but at times it became a bit untenable. It became easy to buy into the strangeness of these characters but it got to a point where these individuals just did not feel like humans. Almost like watching aliens in a sense. Sure, it has this sense of originality to it, but to what effect? The overall strangeness, at times, took away from the strong emotional work being done through her script where it almost did not need this particular oddity, but it still definitely works very well as a whole.
With the strangeness required for these roles, the trio of Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, and Debra Winger completely commit to this family and all of their peculiarities. Wood, in particular, really sells the emotional struggles her character feels throughout this feature. Whether it be in the small distinct looks she gives or actually voicing it with her oddly deepened voice, she makes it all work. Gina Rodriguez steps in and changes the entire dynamic of the feature for the good. Representing such an alluring figure both for Old Dolio and the parents, Rodriguez has never commanded the screen more than she does here. It may be from how much she differs from the Dyne family, but the way she sticks out combined with the glorious charm she provides makes for a captivating wrecking ball for this narrative.
Expecting parents to provide everything may be the dream but does not always materialize in reality. Kajillionaire attempts to imbue this within its narrative with all of the weirdness one could expect from a Miranda July feature. Even with plenty to sift through, this film really punctures something profound with its themes, which helps elevate everything it may be lacking.