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Once every decade or so, Miranda July returns to the director's chair to reflect on lost souls looking for interconnection in an increasingly isolated world. With her directorial debut, 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know, July studied relationships (typically romantic) at the advent of Internet compatibility, and how we're often just wayward individuals hoping to find oddball people to relate with – even when a state of anonymity brings out one's unchecked inhibitions. With her sophomore follow-up, 2011's The Future, July tackled our uncertainty with the vastness of eternity and whether or not we can ever feel confident about the people we marry or mate with.
Now, with her third, most accomplished film, Kajillionaire, July continues exploring one's desire to find connectivity in an unagreeable world, while also learning how to find some peace in letting go of your familial comforts. The results are more hilarious, heartfelt, and assured than ever before.
Kajillionaire follows a pair of aging con artists (Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger) who've trained their 26-year-old daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) – named after a homeless man who once won the lottery – to believe that life is all for the taking but you need to swindle and scam your way through every interaction. Only the sneakiest prevail, though her inability to trust or connect with anyone on any physical or emotional level (including her intimate family) results in a deeply lonely, isolated existence. Now, time is running short on their rent, and the family needs to figure out how to make their quickest chunk of change yet. As Old Dolio embarks on an inventive heist involving misplaced airplane luggage insurance, her family meets Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a bright, alluring stranger with an active and eager desire to join this oddball trio of grifters in their heisting endeavors.
Absurdity can often come naturally to Miranda July. She relishes in the oblique and the acute, gleefully exploring weird people in odd lives who simply want to find a link to someone else in their disparate world. Kajillionaire is not only about finding your connection but learning to let go of the ones who hold you back: the people who ultimately aren't in your best interest — even if they're the ones who put you into this strange world in the first place. July's direction can carry a sternness when it comes to the severity of this toxic relationship, but more-often-than-not, her style is gentle and caring, open and loving. She may not fully relate to this family of grifters, but she helps you endear to all their wild eccentricities and maybe even understand them (if you can). It's a delicate balance that won't work for everyone, but like July's other films, when (or if) you connect to its wavelength, it's an oddly moving experience.
It should be noted that, either for better or worse, Kajillionaire is easily Miranda July's most accessible film. Once you get settled into the peculiarities of this strange family trio, the story is (somewhat) straightforward and quite gently executed. While losing some of July's past peculiarities can seem like a loss, when it comes to Kajillionaire it's ultimately in the service of something greater, sweeter, and more universally profound. Finding a lively marriage between approachability and distinctiveness, July's third film might follow a more familiar story format that prevents it from being as original as her previous works. But even when the story falls into expected mechanics compared to her first and second features, July's evergreen care for the little details is what really makes its spark.
Notably, one particularly peculiar scene involving a dying old man and our central family pretending to live out a suburban family existence for his benefit is odd to explain, but deeply affecting in its execution. Like many of the best scenes in July's work, it's hard to articulate what makes them tick, but when she's at her best, Miranda July creates something both individuality specific to her style and emotionally gratifying for the human experience. It's a difficult tightrope that looks easy under July's assured hand, resulting in one of the most singularly involving moments of this unpredictable year.
As much as Miranda July deserves credit for her accomplishments, particularly as a rather singular filmmaker, Kajillionaire's success is also owed to the strong talent she secures both in-front-and-behind-the-camera. Notably, composer Emile Mosseri engulfs you in blemishing feelings of remorse and reflection without them ever feeling too forced or overly-sentimental, while the lovely camerawork from cinematographer Sebastian Winterø is key to realizing July's diaphanous, graceful vision for her screenplay. And one would be remiss if they didn't celebrate the fine performances of our four ensemble players, notably Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins, and particularly Evan Rachel Wood. While it takes a minute to be accustomed to Wood's curiously deepened voice, her vulnerable and visceral performance stands out as one of her finest to date. In fact, I'd say it might arguably be her greatest performance yet – if mainly thanks to its intriguing, always unplaceable idiosyncrasy.
Finding one's identity is ultimately an interesting thematic progression for Miranda July since I believe she becomes more in touch with her own sensibilities and more confident with her own unconventional ideas with each progressive film. Kajillionaire showcases a filmmaker who is only more developed and distinctive in her stylistic flourishes, while not letting these individualistic touches define the movie entirely. While some folks might be too caught up in the movie's emboldened sense of weirdness, at its core, Kajillionaire is a uniquely universal tale about finding the people who understand and care about you, while also exploring the nature of parenthood and the dangers of assuming that some social prejudices against the world-at-large should be passed down to future generations. Told with compassion, insight, nuance, and care,July's latest film is quick to steal your heart and win your love.