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Film Review: In Lovely “Kajillionaire,” Gina Rodriguez Is All Anyone Needs

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 24th, 2020

Film poster: “Kajillionaire”

Kajillionaire (Miranda July, 2020) 3½ out of 4 stars.

There is no film or TV show that the presence of actress Gina Rodriguez (The CW’s Jane the Virgin) does not, in some way, improve. Versatile in both comedy and drama, she always comes prepared with just the energy required. Such is certainly the case in Kajillionaire, the third feature from writer/director Miranda July (The Future). It’s a film already strong before Rodriguez’s arrival, made even more so once she effortlessly joins the cast.

The movie begins with the extremely odd family of Robert (Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water), Theresa (Debra Winger, The Lovers) and Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood, HBO’s Westworld), the former two both parents to the third. A trio of con artists and petty thieves, they scramble to make rent every month on the office space they inhabit next to a soap factory, the bubbles from which invade their makeshift home at the same time every day. “Everyone wants to be a kajillionaire,” says Robert, but do they have his flare, as he sees it? No way. Their specialty is pushy grift, Old Dolio stealing items from open post-office boxes and then the three trying to resell and do something with them. No task is too low, if it will earn a buck, especially if Old Dolio will be the one to do it.

l-r: Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Evan Rachel Wood in KAJILLIONAIRE ©Focus Features

For it becomes clear that the daughter, now a twentysomething adult, has always been at the mercy of her manipulative, mendacious mom and dad, who gave her that terrible name in the hopes that the original holder of it might gift them some income in his will. Still, “the devil you know” and all that, and Old Dolio knows no better. Until, that is, Robert and Theresa take her up on a plan to make some significant (to them) cash on a lost-luggage scheme that sends them from Los Angeles to New York and back on a quick roundtrip. It’s on the return leg that Rodriguez’s Melanie shows up.

Approximately the same age as Old Dolio, she’s all extroverted ebullience where the other woman is shy and awkward. Robert and Theresa take to her right away, though not so Old Dolio, who: a) is suspicious of everybody, and b) is especially so of her parents. But who can resist Rodriguez’s charm? Very few, no matter how much they try. And so the family dynamic begins to change.

l-r: Gina Rodriguez and Evan Rachel Wood in KAJILLIONAIRE ©Focus Features

The now foursome then embark on a series of adventures and misadventures, the seemingly upright Melanie excited by the prospect of something new. Old Dolio, however, plunges into an increasing funk, ever more aware of how mistreated she has been her whole life. Melanie begins to notice this, too. Will she be the one to help set Old Dolio free? Or will she be yet another obstacle to that very freedom, perhaps even replacing Old Dolio in her parents’ affections?

Everyone is at their best, here, including the many supporting players who appear, at intervals. July has an eye for the world’s eccentricities, like a cinematic Diane Arbus, and piles on layer after layer of intriguing details and characters to the story. There are even some extremely poignant reflections on life and death. Most of the time, the frenzied mayhem is a delight; occasionally, it’s a bit much. However unconventional the wrapping, though, at heart this is really a coming-of-age tale, if unlike any we have seen before. Love is all we need to blossom. Or Gina Rodriguez. Who needs those kajillions?

Gina Rodriguez in KAJILLIONAIRE ©Focus Features
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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