Miranda July floats you along on a cloud of weightless, dreamy inconsequentiality in this deader-than-deadpan comedy, shot in a hard, blank, bleachy LA light. I have taken some time to acclimatise to her distinctive, affectlessly sentimental film-making, but it is growing on me, and Kajillionaire is intriguing.
It is the story of a dysfunctional and poverty-stricken family trio of scammers, whose daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is only just beginning to realise in her mid-20s that something is very wrong with the way she has been brought up and the way they all live their lives together – and the people they are tricking know something she doesn’t. Her sociopath parents Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) have given her the strange name Old Dolio, for absurd and demeaning reasons revealed some way into the action. They have trained her to sneak into the post office (with various athletic leaps and rolls to avoid security cameras) to steal other people’s mail for any possibly valuable contents, or to pretend to have found it to get a reward from the intended recipient. Then Old Dolio devises a new scam that involves them flying to New York City, where they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a charming, bored young woman who takes a liking to this band of grifters and impulsively decides she wants in – becoming a rival quasi-daughter to the creepy old couple, to Old Dolio’s resentment.
The place where they are living is almost hypnotically scuzzy and nasty: a condemned office building, where at 4:15pm every day they have to clean off the overflow of foamy water from the wall of what is perhaps a laundrette next door: although this bizarre, dreamlike spectacle is never entirely explained.
Kajillionaire has a harder edge than July’s earlier pictures, with something bleaker and more ironic in the surrealism. Wood, although maybe channelling Kurt Cobain in her slouchily withdrawn performance, has something interesting in her gradual awakening, especially in the epiphany she experiences during an earthquake. There is real style here.