Originality is something critics often complain about there not being enough of in today’s entertainment industry. Sometimes something too original leans into weirdness, whereas not as original comes off as bland. In that description, it’s pretty safe to say that my opinion on “Kajillionaire” is a film that I went in with a rather large amount of skepticism. That skepticism came in the form of a trailer that really just did not sell me on the movie. It felt as if the cast and crew were trying to be too odd for their own benefit. After seeing the film, I can safely say that the movie being advertised is not the movie you get. The story follows a daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) of con men parents (Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger) who finds a new member (Gina Rodriguez) to add to their makeshift “family."
What I found so interesting and admittedly surprising here was the film's earnest and endearing portrayal of these characters. Director/writer Miranda July, known for her work in “The Future,” doesn’t look down upon these characters. She treats them like real, damaged individuals who are stuck in self-inflicted straits. While Jenkins and Winger are definitely the villains of the piece, July focuses on Wood’s performance and perspective. I don’t want to spoil the name of Woods' character (as it serves a purpose to this story), but it almost gives an interesting perspective on the world we’re in. That’s the largest reason why I tip my hat to July as a filmmaker for not relying on the film's weirdness to get us through. Between sharp dialogue and the performances, you remain consistently engaged.
Both Winger and Jenkins are actors who you may not know by name, but trust me when I say you’ve seen them before. Here they get a chance to shine and show off sides of themselves most film fans—like myself—haven’t seen before. As the parents of Woods, they give off a facade of sweetness that may or may not have some sinister undertones. Half the fun here is the depth into how their characters change over the course of the film. Gina Rodriguez arguably delivers her best performance as someone who feels like an L.A. resident. From the skimpy clothes to the personality, there’s a street smart to her that no one expects. It’s tricky to pull off because while some may consider it bland, there’s more depth than meets the eye.
I wanted to save this next section for the magnificent performance of Evan Rachel Wood. Her role as someone who was born in a life of crime doesn’t go down any avenue you’d expect. Even with strong writing, a character like this can be hard to accomplish with a risk of being too odd. For someone that could be unlikable in its weirdness, Wood delivers a sweet earnestness that’s so compelling. A lot of the film resides in her discovering a world outside of crime and a crooked family, and she delivers such a vulnerability. That vulnerability makes her easy to sympathize with and connects the audience to her on an emotional level. The line she draws made this one of my favorite performances so far in 2020.
Movies like "Kajillionaire" are always interesting to me in terms of how an audience would perceive it. Such originality is tough to accomplish, but I can see how some may find it off-putting stylistically. If that description seems uninteresting, I would say that the film won’t convince you otherwise. What makes it work is the appreciation July and Wood have for a character as unique as this. That uniqueness turns into an instant likability which made this an overall pleasant watch. Sometimes the oddities of a film can be that endearing, which is the case here. When it comes to streaming, I recommend you check this one out!