Writer, director, and former UCSC Slug, Miranda July, burst onto the indie film scene in 2005 with Me and You and Everyone We Know. It won prizes at prestigious film festivals such as Sundance and Cannes, and July would be declared by Filmmaker magazine as one of the new faces of indie cinema. Talented though she may be, she’s not prolific. July’s follow-up, The Future, came six years later, and nine more years passed before the release of Kajillionaire, her third and latest feature. After premiering last September, Kajillionaire’s theatrical engagements were quickly curtailed by the pandemic. It’s now available on streaming services and DVD.
Kajillionaire tells the story of one of the most heartbreaking characters you’ll ever meet. Her name is Old Dolio. It’s subtextually relevant that “dolio” is Spanish for “it hurt,” but that’s not why her parents named her that. The reason, which won’t be revealed here, adds another layer of heartbreak. However, her name is just as odd as her relationship with her anti-establishment parents; Old Dolio isn’t old, she’s twenty-six, and her parents are grifters supporting themselves with petty scams. To them, Old Dolio is less a daughter and more a third accomplice.
Together, they rent an office space they’ve turned into their residence. Their landlord owns the business next door – Bubbles, Incorporated. As the name implies, he manufactures bubbles. In an early scene he can be heard chastising workers preparing bubbles for shipping. “The little ones are popping. Pop, pop, pop… just stop, OK?” Beneath the whimsy is one of Kajillionaire’s essential themes – popping bubbles. Figuratively speaking, Old Dolio has many bubbles. Most were formed by her eccentric, non-conforming parents, conceived out of neurotic fears and the desire for safety. But they also insulate her from intimacy and true happiness. Old Dolio’s bubbles are long overdue to pop; they just need a little help.
When faced with eviction from their makeshift home, Old Dolio hatches a plan to bamboozle three months worth of back rent. Hiding behind her long, blonde hair, with bad posture shaped by years of low self-esteem, Old Dolio goes through the motions of their latest swindle while her father encounters a vivacious young woman named Melanie. Melanie, perhaps looking to pop a bubble or two of her own, ingratiates herself to the trio, suggesting they work some scams together. After her father refers to Melanie as “Hon,” Old Dolio, who usually expresses herself in a flat affectation suggesting mild autism, gasps out loud, “You’ve never called me that!” Melanie immediately tries to assuage Old Dolio’s hurt feelings, paving the way for a touchingly awkward emotional connection. Pop. Pop. Pop.
It’s hard to describe the subtle alchemy of a Miranda July film. It’s as if she’s taken the quirk of Wes Anderson, the absurdity of Charlie Kaufman, and the sensuality of Jane Campion and molds it into something new with her distinctive fingerprints all over it. The talented cast of Kajillionaire does a terrific job of supporting her unique vision. Evan Rachel Wood is fantastic and nearly unrecognizable as Old Dolio, as is the great Debra Winger as her mother. Richard Jenkins, playing the father, hits an emotional crescendo he’s rarely given the opportunity to achieve. But the MVP award goes to Gina Rodriguez as Melanie. Her endearing, winsome demeanor injects new life into the narrative precisely when needed.
Miranda July’s talent as a storyteller lies in her ability to walk the fine line between pathos and fanciful comedy, and Kajillionaire is arguably her strongest work yet.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski