(Spoilers for Kajillionaire ahead.)
The third feature film from Miranda July, Kajillionaire follows an L.A. family full of small-time scam artists as they try to find a way to make enough money to pay their long-overdue rent. While trying (and typically failing) to do so, they meet a new, vibrant girl named Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who turns their plans upside down, specifically those of the daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). What follows is a gripping, entertaining, gentle, and sublime story of lost and found family, told through the lens of a daughter who wants nothing more than affection from her cold, conning parents.
Kajillionaire succeeds instantly because of its eccentric characters and their dynamics with one another. Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) are cold towards their daughter, who they named after an old homeless man who won the lottery and who they were hoping to steal from. Old Dolio is quiet and reserved, and goes along with what her parents want from her, typically taking the lead in all of their scams and doing the work for them.
It is clear that her parents never show her any affection through the way she acts; in scenes where other people are affectionate towards her, Old Dolio nearly breaks down, unused to such attention. She begins the film resigned to this fate and does as her parents ask, accepting the treatment they give her. Things take a turn when she meets Melanie, with whom she ends up forming a strong connection.
Evan Rachel Wood shines in Kajillionaire. Her performance is subtle and mesmerizing, and she’s impossible to look away from. She embodies the character of Old Dolio fantastically and finds ways to communicate what is not said verbally to the audience. It’s impossible not to feel for Old Dolio, and when she eventually asks her parents for the affection she has never been given, it’s heartbreaking to watch. Though Old Dolio puts on an emotionless front, Evan Rachel Wood effortlessly shows the audience what she is really feeling.
The standout relationship of Kajillionaire is that of Old Dolio and Melanie, who appear to be two polar opposites — whereas Old Dolio is reserved, Melanie is outgoing, openly flirtatious, and bold in her actions. Old Dolio is jealous of her at first, as Melanie gets affection from Robert and Theresa that she herself has never been given.
However, their relationship takes a turn when Melanie, realizing the lack of love Old Dolio has been given by her parents, offers to provide affection for Old Dolio, taking care of her and giving her the attention she has never received. Though this confuses Old Dolio, and though she is unsure of how to receive this affection, what sparks between them is gentle, beautiful, and romantic. The chemistry between Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez is brilliant, and the two are the dynamic pair that drives the movie.
The ending of Kajillionaire is heartbreaking, humorous, and spellbinding at once. Though Old Doilio’s relationship with her parents may be beyond repair, as their greed outshines any love they may have for her, the home that she has found with Melanie holds more weight than anything she ever had with her parents. The two lean on one another, and seeing them succeed victoriously in the end, sealed with a gentle kiss in the midst of chaos, is beautiful.
With Kajillionaire, July creates something special and memorable, and for all its quirks and strange moments, it’s impossible not to fall in love with. July continues to cement herself as a powerhouse director to look out for, and I’m eager to see what comes next from her.
(This article was originally published by Marisa Jones on Medium.)