Review by Sean Boelman
There are movies that are awkwardly funny, and then there are movies that are so awkward that they become uncomfortable, making watching the film feel like a voyeuristic experience, and that is definitely the case with Miranda July’s dark comedy Kajillionaire. Unmistakably and sometimes off-puttingly quirky, July’s movie is both hard-to-watch and unexpectedly rewarding.
The film follows a woman living with her con-artist family as their unorthodox style of life is threatened by the arrival of an outsider who threatens to change the way they do things. It’s part dysfunctional family comedy, part heist movie, and part existential crisis drama, and while these things don’t always mesh together seamlessly, it’s a movie that never ceases to perplex with its very unusual blend of tones and genres.
It’s definitely a messy script, but a lot of its charm lies in its chaos. Much like the film’s characters, the story isn’t meant to be tidy and neat. Rather, it challenges the viewer’s understanding and expectations of the narrative by presenting characters that defy traditional standards of approachability yet still somehow feel sympathetic.
July’s approach to her characters is also very unusual. While definitely not mocking, it’s also not coming from a place of complete altruism either. The movie seems to have a fascination with their way of life, not in a way that wants to learn about it, but in a way that wants to observe it from a distance. The audience is meant to pity these characters, not accept them, which almost feels a bit exploitative.
Yet for a film that is so unabashedly weird, the messaging is extremely direct. The themes and motifs throughout the movie are presented in a way that isn’t subtle whatsoever. The finale is particularly unambiguous, with expositional dialogue telling the audience what they should take away from the final act.
Evan Rachel Wood’s performance is definitely multi-layered, and there are some things that work really well about it and others that don’t. There is a lot of emotion in her performance, but the accent she uses is distracting to a point that it almost becomes hard to buy into it. On the other hand, Richard Jenkins, Gina Rodriguez, and Debra Winger are more consistently impressive.
Visually, the film feels adequately grimey, given the down-and-dirty feel of the script, but there’s also a lot of energy and enthusiasm there. It does a great job of feeling gross even though it doesn’t depict anything particularly disgusting (apart from an oozing wall that will shake some viewers to their core).
It’s hard to describe exactly why Kajillionaire works, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is still very charming in an unexpected way. For better or worse, Miranda July has made one of the most intriguing and confounding movies of the year.
Kajillionaire opens in theaters on September 25.
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