Dir: Miranda July; Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mark Ivanir, Rachel Redleaf. 12A cert, 106 min.
There’s an old saw that no one who’s made it in Los Angeles takes the bus. But imagine failing so badly that you merely lurk at bus stops figuring out your next move. The family of three in Miranda July’s oddball heist comedy Kajillionaire – pasty white, with ill-fitting clothes and intense on-the-job expressions – are inveterate grifters who would never stump up for a ticket to ride if there weren’t a percentage in it.
If there was ever a trio who sweated the small stuff, weighing every nickel and dime, it’s this Dyne family. The parents, Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) carry around a frazzled aura of failure you can practically smell, and aggressively celebrate tiny triumphs, like finding a toy in someone else’s mail they can easily return for a refund.
When we meet them at a bus stop, outside LA’s downtown post office, they’re sending in their daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) on a ridiculous solo mission to pilfer as much as she can claw out through one of the sorting boxes. Her name, tragically, is Old Dolio – pinched, bizarrely, from a past intended victim of theirs – and if anything, she’s even more slumped and desperate-looking than her folks, with sad hair down to her midriff and a wardrobe consisting entirely of mix-and-match scavenged shellsuits. Paying reduced rent, they live in an office space no one else wants, next to a factory which makes pink bubbles seep uncontrollably through the walls, in the film’s most playfully surreal, Charlie-Kaufman-esque touch.
Miranda July, after a long pause from feature filmmaking, springs back here with crisp verve and real thoughtfulness: it’s a melancholy comedy about small-time larceny and the breadline. Equations of wealth and happiness are continually reshifting as the story unfolds. It has a neo-Capraesque quality, but it also reminded me of I Heart Huckabees (2004) – David O Russell’s undervalued caper about slavery to corporate values – with its goosing tone and dark undercurrents.
Kajillionaire goes places you won’t predict, and it’s key to the film’s success, like some of David Mamet’s pictures, that it’s hard to guess who’s conning whom, and when, and how. The rogue arrival on the scene is Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a gorgeous, open-hearted free agent who has the good/bad luck to be seated next to the Dynes on a flight back from New York. They’ve hatched a plan to claim compensation for “missing” luggage, and rope her in as an accomplice. Soon she becomes part of the team, much to the consternation of Old Dolio, who detects a fondness towards Melanie from her parents which she’s never experienced herself in 26 years – years without birthdays, with never a single pancake flipped for her, rarely a soft word spoken.