BFI LFF 2020: Kajillionaire (2020)

Kajillionaire by visionary filmmaker Miranda July is an absurd, dead-pan coming-of-age satire on the American dream.

American Family

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

“Everyone wants to be a kajillionaire.” That’s of Robert’s (Richard Jenkins) assessment of what’s wrong with other people. He and his wife Theresa (Debra Winger) are shabby, small-time con artists, content to skim a bare living ‘under the radar’ on the unprosperous outside fringes of society in sunny Los Angeles. They’ve trained (brainwashed?) their gruff, feral 26-year-old daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) to play her role in their family ‘business’. It’s all she’s ever done and all she knows.

Every little thing that happens to the three is converted by Robert into a new, not necessarily very lucrative, scam opportunity. But one day a young mother pays Old Dolio a few dollars to attend a compulsory positive parenting class on her behalf so that she can skip it. The class jolts Old Dolio into an unsettling realisation about the conventional, loving parenting she never had.

By chance the three meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a chatty, outgoing, well-adjusted young woman in a boring job. She’s not judgemental about their lifestyle, instead she seizes it as an opportunity to create some new excitement in her life. She charms them into letting her join in their scams. And she sees Old Dolio for herself in a way her parents don’t. Her intervention changes the trio’s stagnant dynamic in ways they hadn’t imagined.

Underlying cult filmmaker Miranda July’s imaginative absurdity in the film is a deep criticism of the capitalism, big and small, that runs through American society, the so-called land of opportunity, like mould through blue cheese.

Kajillionaire is full of quirky details: the origin of Old Dolio’s name, the massive clouds of pink foam that pour down into their home in a disused office, where they’re always under threat of eviction, and frequent little earthquakes, with Robert waiting for ‘the big one’ that will wipe humanity out. In one bizarre, yet very telling, scene, a lonely dying old man they are attempting to rob asks them to recreate the sounds and conversations of a normal family in his home and they all click with uncanny ease into acting out this noisy fiction.

Kajillionaire is poignant yet funny, a dead-pan comedy drama about the poison of families, understanding intimacy and coming of age. It’s also the love story of the year. Miranda July draws you into her strange, unpredictable world of skewed normality – if you get her vision, you’ll absolutely love it.

Kajillionaire screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 7 October and is released on 9 October 2020 in the UK.

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