Kajillionaire Review: Not Much Else Like It in 2020
Cheesy subheader: it’s no con to say this is a great movie.
The opening moments of Kajillionaire pulled me in. With the way that it was shot, and the way that it set up one thing but delivered something else, I knew that even if I didn’t like it as a conventional movie I would appreciate what was being attempted. Fortunately, I ended up loving it and as it stands it’s one of my favourite flicks of the year so far.
As the movie progressed it staked its claim that it was a little more ambitious than your typical dramedy. While it didn’t take the fantastical route that Sorry to Bother You did, the tonal shifts and general atmosphere was reminiscent of it. That’s not me saying that Miranda July ripped off Sorry to Bother You or even attempted to make a movie like it, it’s just the comparison that popped into my head the quickest.
That is to say, it’s a unique experience for sure. It feels a little awkward at any given point, but that reflects the mental state of Evan Rachel Wood’s comparatively clumsy named Old Dolio Dyne. Calling something “love it or hate it” is lazy criticism so I try to avoid it, but it’s hard to deny that this might fall into that category. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s challenging enough to elicit that level of vitriol or adoration, but I can see a certain audience coming out of this one unimpressed and turned off by how little regard July had for playing in the more conventional sandbox.
There were a few scenes, which I won’t spoil, that were filmed in such an inspired and unexpected way that they will stick with me for a while, even though I have a terrible memory. They didn’t succumb to the usual traditions that one might expect when dealing with the subject matter, but they didn’t come across as trying too hard neither. When you pursue more experimental ways to tell a story–not that this goes off the wall, it just flirts with it occasionally–you can risk warding off your audience. This was more honest and everything that flashed on screen served a genuine purpose, not merely the director showing us what she could get away with.
It’s those little moments that make it more special than it might have otherwise have been, but there’s a lot of deserved credit for both the acting and the script itself.
Gina Rodriguez and Evan Rachel Wood are the obvious stand-outs. While Evan Rachel Wood definitely put in her all, I expected her to do as well as she did. She has made a career out of playing complex and often troubled characters, so to see her do it once again was not surprising but still welcome.
Rodriguez is the person who shined. Prior to this I had only seen her in Miss Bala and Annihilation, where she was competent but given poor material in the former and outclassed in the latter. So in my mind, and only my mind, this was her revenge, her rise. She plays Melanie, a woman who gets tangled up with Old Dolio Dyne and her family. What she brings to the role is enough tenderness to sympathize with a character you might have a difficult time doing so for early on. She didn’t need anything bombastic to be effective; she was just ridiculously charming.
Of course, good actors with a horrific script can only go so far, but this isn’t the case here. I wouldn’t really describe this as a comedy to most people, or put it at the forefront of classification. It’s only funny if you like your humour a little more blackened without going into the truly offensive. Truthfully, at most it provoked a subtle smile; enough to feel pleasant, not enough to make me laugh out loud.
Where it succeeds most is in crafting memorable characters while putting them through the ringer of everyday life. The family and Melanie all exist in atypical and frankly immoral spaces, choosing a life of criminality over all else. But this doesn’t deny the viewer emotional outpours.
Take for example–and I’m keeping this purposely vague–a scene that involves a piano and dinner. It’s a splendid (of course I’d use a pretentious word like splendid to describe dinner) and unexpected scene because we aren’t really used to seeing this sort of thing in Kajillionaire. But it hints at something deeper while still feeling earned.
Miranda keeps this all together beautifully. She does double duty by directing and writing it. She takes disparate elements and pieces them together fluidly. She gathers great portrayals of the characters in her head. She adds enough flourish to certain locations and scenes to add depth, such as when she uses distance from her subject in one particular scene to frame it in the most isolating way possible. I was unintentionally ignorant about her work up until I saw Kajillionaire but now I realize what many others realized before: she’s a voice to be hard and now I will remember that for the future.
Make sure to check out Kajillionaire when it becomes possible. You may dislike it but this kind of creativity and novel cinema deserves to be, at the very least, recognized.
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THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
BETTER THAN THIS WAY OF LIFE WOULD BE
Kajillionaire is my first experience with Miranda July but it has launched her into a director to be followed in my puny mind. With great acting, excellent framing/camera work/directing and a clever script, it’s one of the best movies of the year. With that said, due to how little regard it has for following set paths, it may turn off some. Those who stick around will be rewarded.