KAJILLIONAIRE (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. A single month with new releases from both Charlie Kaufman (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) and Miranda July, is almost enough to make this movie lover forget for a moment that we are suffering through a global pandemic, raging forest fires, and the most obscene presidential campaign of my lifetime. Ms. July is an absurdly talented writer and filmmaker, and it’s her first feature length film since THE FUTURE (2011). Prior to that, she served up ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (2005), and has a unique way of displaying her strange life observations. She and Kaufman are masters of quirk, and excel in twisting our minds.

Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio Dyne, daughter of Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (an unrecognizable Debra Winger). This is an oddball family of petty crime con artists who live in a run down, unused office next to the Bubbles, Inc. factory. And yes, they make bubbles in the factory … bubbles that seep through the walls into the office where this family sleeps. One of their scams is on the landlord (a surreal character himself) who has to explain to an always-negotiating Robert that “rent is an installment”.

The first part of the film allows us to get to know the family members. We see them pull off stealing mail from a neighboring post office box, and returning stolen goods for the reward. Ms. Wood stays attired in an oversized green track suit jacket, and has lowered her speaking voice by an octave, adding impact to her monotone liners. She’s socially awkward, and likely on the spectrum as she seems to be the smartest of the bunch. Daddy Robert is a control freak and has an emotional disability in regards to California earthquake tremors. He and Theresa show no signs of affection towards each other or Old Dolio.

An airline baggage scam results in the family meeting Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an eager to join the grifters woman, whom Old Dolio sees as her replacement as both a daughter and partner. Jealousy ensues. Melanie is contrasted to Old Dolio by her bubbly personality, and by a wardrobe that is significantly more revealing than a tattered track suit. Old Dolio watches uneasily as Melanie is soon receiving the attention from Robert and Theresa that their own daughter craves.

The second half evolves into a film not so much about cons or heists (the film admits it’s no OCEANS 11), as about family dynamics. The twists and turns find Melanie helping Old Dolio break free of parental over-control in order to experience independence … and pancakes. Learning about warmth and affection from “normal” families is eye-opening for her, and sometimes a little confusing for us to follow.  Who is scamming whom, and when are they telling the truth?

Miranda July has created a crime-drama-comedy (dark comedy), with plenty of space to let the characters and dialogue breathe. “I’m Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton kicks in periodically, and the score from Emile Mosseri (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO) complements it well. On the heels of last year’s team of family scamsters in PARASITE, this shaggy group has never met a swindle they wouldn’t try. And they never expected it to backfire with their own daughter. The divide between those who like the film and those who don’t was pretty clear after Sundance, and Miranda July will likely never be one to appeal to the masses. But for those of us who connect with her oddball way of seeing life, we appreciate the focus on what makes a family of outsiders click … especially when a superb performance from Evan Rachel Wood drives the film.

watch the trailer:


THE FUTURE

August 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Thanks to her 2005 debut film Me and You and Everyone We Know, I became a fan of Miranda July. Unfortunately that means reading a few of her short stories and waiting six years for her second (and equally independent) film. There is no rushing a creative genius, and there is certainly no obvious goal for capitalistic gains. With her second film, it appears she will somehow generate even fewer viewers, despite being a festival favorite.

The movie is bookended by the narration of Paw-Paw, an injured cat waiting to be adopted by Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). In the cat’s voice we hear the hope of a new life – one that includes love and security. Things aren’t quite the same from the perspective of our two heroes.

 Sophie and Hamish are in many ways a typical couple. They sometimes speak their own language and when things are going good, they believe they can conquer all. However, hitting a bump means much doubt and and an avalanche of self-defeatist attitudes. The latest bump is the belief that adopting this cat will suck the freedom right out of their daily lives … in fact, they discuss the fact that because of their age (35), life and dreams are basically over. So, with 30 days til adoption, they seek to live life to the fullest. You know, before it’s all over.

 They both quit the jobs that have evidently been the burden keeping them from greater purpose. Jason works from home as an IT Help Desk agent and Sophie is the world’s absolute worst dance instructor for kids. Jason tries to find meaning by selling trees to save the environment. Sophie decides to make youtube videos – 30 Dances in 30 Days, but with mounting pressure, ends up under the bed covers before even one video is complete.

These two remind me of 8 year olds with advanced vocabularies. Somehow they think society or the universe owes them something and just by dreaming big, their lives will be complete. They each believe they have special powers: Sophie can move things with her mind (not really) and Jason can stop time (not sure). We see Jason fall under the spell of the most interesting character in the film – an octogenarian played by Joe Putterlik. We see Sophie fall into bed with Marshall (David Warshofsky), a 50ish single dad living in the suburbs.

 So here is some of what the film offers us: a slacker couple in a rundown apartment, same couple overwhelmed by the burden of adopting a cat, a crawling security blanket (t-shirt) that stalks its owner, a narrating cat, an empty affair with a mis-matched couple, an old man philosopher and his dirty-talk greeting cards, a discussion with the moon (yes, the moon), a young girl (wonderful Isabella Acres) who buries herself in the backyard with the approval of her dad, and (twice) the terrific Peggy Lee song “Where or When”.

Ms. July is married to filmmaker Mike Mills, who is responsible for this year’s terrific Beginners.  She is a fabulous observer of life and people and personalities. She seems to understand doubts and dreams, and carries an interest in what time lapse really means for us. Her manner of making these points and sharing her insight is quite off-beat from what we typically see in movies. I believe that makes it most important that she continue to produce her works. Unlike what I will say about her character in this film, The Future looks awfully bright for Miranda July.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Miranda July OR you just want to tell your friends that you have seen a movie where the narrator is a re-habbing cat named Paw-Paw.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you rolled your eyes even once while reading the next to last paragraph in my review

watch the trailer: