Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, and Richard Jenkins — and directed by Miranda July — Kajillionaire is an intriguing character study about the dynamics of a family in Los Angeles struggling to get by each day and they will stop at very little to ensure their survival. So they jump into con after con, just to make a buck.
Old Dolio Dyne (Wood) is a young woman in her twenties, dependent on her parents, their views of the world, and the way they brought her up. Robert and Theresa (Jenkins and Winger) are anxiety-ridden, conspiracy-filled, and unapologetic. Their home is an unused office space. In order to make rent, which they are severely behind on, the family must find creative ways to earn money, such as stealing from the post office, returning unused vouchers in hope of a refund, or sitting in on parenting classes for strangers.
In the middle of a scheme that involves a flight to New York (with a quick return back) and some luggage, the family comes upon Melanie (Rodriguez) who is flying back home. After a lengthy conversation, Robert fills her in on the plan and she jumps on board with the idea of these cons. But her relationship is an odd one, where Robert and Theresa embrace her fully, even more than their own daughter, and Old Dolio keeps her at a distance. Circumstances evolve and attitudes change between the quartet, which ultimately creates a divide between the family.
Evan Rachel Wood’s and Gina Rodriguez’s performances are nothing short of electric. Wood’s character brings to the table the more amusing and funny moments of the film. How Old Dolio carries herself is incredibly odd, as she struggles to express herself and to explore her feelings. This is because of how her parents raised her, as they expressed no love or sentimentalities, and went out of their way not to treat her like a child, going so far as to not even celebrate her birthday.
This generational gap, and the trauma it has caused Old Dolio, is the central theme of the film. It robbed the young woman of a childhood, stability, financial independence, and the smarts to navigate the world. And this is exactly where Melanie comes in as a witness to Old Dolio’s experiences.
Gina Rodriguez effortlessly brings some sanity and humility to the whole affair, as her character is suddenly involved in the antics and absurdities of the Dyne family. Her performance and chemistry with Wood deserved more screen time and it would have been a treat to learn more about Melanie as a character and her life circumstances.
As interesting as Kajillionaire is, and it certainly is entertaining to watch, there are some weaknesses. Unfortunately, the story never really comes into its own and, when all is said is done, there is no clear outcome or resolution. And despite some of its humor and weirdness, the film does not fully engage its viewer, which leaves more to be desired. The details of these characters, and their histories, are not explored very much and it allows many questions to go unanswered, such as how they got where they are and why they live this lifestyle.
Kajillionaire is a much deserved theatrical release in a time when too many movies are being postponed or released exclusively online. Its ability to speak to the generational responsibilities of upbringing demonstrates how parenting is not always up to snuff and how generational attitudes can negatively impact young adults and children.