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Miranda July’s third feature (after Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future) is on-brand, continuing to combine her low-key, deadpan, minimalist humanism with a lo-fi, washed-out, street-level aesthetic. Her films rely on character and circumstance, because they certainly don’t look or sound great.
Her set-up here is engaging off the bat: Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) has two truly terrible parents, as evidenced by her ridiculous name (it’s explained in the film in a typically kind-of-funny gag). They’re bottom-of-the-barrel Los Angeles con artists, the kind of people who are never not scamming, albeit for chump change. As played by Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger, they’re clearly both depressed and a little off, as is Old Dolio, who’s been brought up to be part of their gang rather than family. Their world, as pathetic as it is, is original and funny, and the first act is compellingly weird.
The second act sees another young woman – Melanie, played exuberantly by Gina Rodriguez – become accidentally involved in this demented tiny universe, and, initially, go along for the ride, raising Old Dolio’s anxiety from mildly constant to urgently severe. Suddenly there seems to be a second daughter figure vying for the attention of parents who’ve never accepted the first.
As with July’s other films, Kajillionaire is after more than laughs, and reaches quite moving levels of resonance as it engages with the idea of a young adult dealing with a lifetime of parental neglect (and worse). July reaches often for ecstatic moments, where she cranks up a song and captures LA’s sun glaringly in-camera, but it’s Rachel Wood’s performance that will either sell you or send you. It’s a big one, with all the trimmings – a voice, a look, a physicality – to leave us in no uncertain mind of Old Dolio’s deep damage. It just worked for me, even as I was constantly aware of it, and thus did the movie, constantly skirting the threshold of my patience, but always staying just on the right side.