Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Youree Henley Director: Miranda July Screenplay: Miranda July Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins, Mark Ivanir, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Patricia Belcher, Kim Estes, Susan Berger, Adam Bartley, Rachel Redleaf and Michael Twaine Distributor: Focus Features
After slumping with her sophomore feature “The Future,” idiosyncratic writer-director Miranda July recovers to a substantial degree with this ostentatiously quirky tale of a family of small-time grifters, which turns into an unconventional coming-of-age romance. While it might not match her first, “You and Me and Everyone We Know,” it’s dryly amusing—definitely twee, to be sure, but reasonably clever and occasionally even touching.
The hand-to-mouth con artists—though the last term hardly applies, given that the artistry of their work is open to debate—are Robert Dyne (the always delightful Richard Jenkins), his wife Theresa (Debra Winger, looking almost unrecognizably dour) and their daughter Old Dolio (perpetually glum Evan Rachel Wood), whose odd name will be explained late in the picture. They live in an office space connected to a Los Angeles Bubble Factory owned by an aggressively emotional fellow named Stovik (an engaging cameo by Mark Ivanir), who explains his lack of control by saying he has “no filter.”
The family tries to avoid running into Stovik by contorting themselves as they walk past his factory’s wall, but when finally confronted, he reluctantly gives them a short extension on their unpaid rent, partially because they dutifully clean up the pink goo that runs down the walls of their place from the bubble-making process.
Their schemes are so miserably minor as to bring in practically nothing. The most characteristic one is to have Old Dolio loot a few post office boxes by sticking her arm through one they have a key to, after she enters the building via a few nutty jumps and rolls, presumably intended to avoid security cameras. Then they try to make use of whatever she comes up with, like a watch they take to Althea and Victor (Patricia Belcher and Kim Estes), the couple that ordered it, in hopes of a reward. What they get is a gift certificate for a massage, which they try unsuccessfully to cash in; that allows for another funny cameo, this time by Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Jenny the masseuse.
Their fortunes seem to change when Old Dolio, who sometimes makes a few bucks by taking tests or classes for people like a girl named Kelli (Rachel Redleaf), suggests a quick-cash scheme. She’s won three round-trip air tickets to New York City, and though the prospect of flying is anathema to them (Robert and Theresa are terrified of earthquakes, and see airline turbulence in the same way), accept her suggestion: they’ll take the trip, buy insurance on the luggage, and claim the loss of one bag. That will give them enough to pay off their back rent.
Their plan miscarries, of course, but on the return flight to L.A. they encounter Melanie (irrepressible Gina Rodriguez), an ebullient sort whom Robert in particular befriends. She suggests an alternative scheme to get the Dynes the money they need. She’s a clerk for an optometrist who serves old people that she often gets close to. Why not visit a couple of them and search their houses unobtrusively for valuables while they talk? That leads to a couple of sequences, one funny with a flighty woman (Susan Berger) and another more poignant with a dying man (Michael Twaine). The Dynes and Melanie also take time out to do a bit of shopping, which leads to an attempt to scam an eager hot-tub salesman (Adam Bartley).
All this time Old Dolio is growing increasingly dissatisfied, not only with the way her life has gone but with her parents’ relationship with Melanie. In the end, though, it’s how things develop between her and Melanie that will determine Old Dolio’s future.
It’s indisputable that “Kajillionaire” is often coy and precious, but it’s studded with winning moments that make tagging along with the Dynes engaging. The highest of the high points are provided by Jenkins and Rodriguez, but Wood, playing a more subdued character, has the most transformative arc and captures its stages with aplomb, while Winger proves an effective downer. The supporting turns are uniformly cheeky, and though this is hardly a big-budget effort, the tech credits—Sebastian Wintero’s cinematography, Sam Lisenco’s production design, Jennifer Vecchiarello’s editing—are all fine. Emile Mosseri’s score adds whimsy, but not to an insufferable degree.
Some viewers have never been able to tune into July’s oddball wavelength, and may have that reaction to “Kajillionaire.” But it’s perhaps her most accessible picture to date, and should win her new admirers.