Directed by Miranda July
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez
Looking at the lives of a family who seem to want to grift rather than work, Kajillionaire has some heart and a few messy ideas about family and the economic state of the Western world, but it all gets muddled as it unfortunately gets worse as it goes on, coming to the easy conclusion that love is more important than money.
The Dyne family are con artists, swindling their way through life dollar by dollar. The philosophy of the father (Richard Jenkins) is that it’s corrosive to aspire for great wealth, that their way of life has at least some honour and integrity to it, which the daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) may be averse to. During a complicated plan to bring together $1,500, they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who seemingly joins the family, as she turns out to be a bit of a grifter herself.
It doesn’t really make much sense why Melanie gives all her grifting ideas to the family and she agrees to no payment (claiming it’s an “internship,” a forced capitalism reference), but she’s suddenly saddled up with the family as they continue swindling folks (mostly old folks) for what little cash or riches they can take from them.
This third feature from Miranda July is her most grounded and realistic film – the only surreal moment is when the family have to scrape away the foamy pink bubbles that appear in their “home” (which is really an office). She keeps the film very much level with this family and their new associate, even early on showing the pain and discomfort the daughter feels as a shabby frugal extension of her shabby frugal family, which she’s unsure of whether to break free from or not.
Kajillionaire has its shining moment during a period of existential crisis, followed by euphoric elation, when a near-death experience makes the daughter appreciate the joys of capitalism (ie fast food from a convenience store). The film has its own unique quirks to it, but given what it ultimately becomes, this tale of family and financial desperation really pales in comparison to the last two Palme d’Or winners, Parasite and Shoplifters, both of which had at least some care and concern for their characters, which Kajillionaire ultimately lacks. In one way, it ends on a message of love, and yet in another way, it also ends on a mean-spirited note about poor people.