Film review: Kajillionaire

PUBLISHED: 09:53 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:53 01 October 2020

(L to R) Debra Winger as

(L to R) Debra Winger as "Theresa Dyne", Evan Rachel Wood as "Old Dolio Dyne" and Richard Jenkins as "Robert Dyne" in director Miranda July's KAJILLIONAIRE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Focus Features

© 2020 Focus Features, LLC.

Debra Winger and Evan Rachel Wood star as mother and daughter grifters in a heist movie with no heists, random motivations, and familial bonds that don’t ring true

Gina Rodriguez (left) stars as Gina Rodriguez (left) stars as "Melanie" and Evan Rachel Wood (right) stars as "Old Dolio Dyne" in director Miranda July's KAJILLIONAIRE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Focus Features

Who wants to watch Kajillionaire? I don’t, and you won’t, cause none of it rings true. Well, actually you might. If you can connect with its random style, it may prove to be an intense and rewarding experience.

But anybody with two hours free and a mask to hand, lured into a cinema by the promise of this being a heist movie, is likely to feel more than a little gypped.

The word “heist” is being bandied about a lot in the promotion of this movie, which is a scam because no heists are involved; at least not in the movie definition of the word, as a large scale robbery involving subterfuge and the odd ruse or two.

The family unit here – father Jenkins, mother Winger, daughter Wood – are just small-time scammers, though they prefer the term skimmers because they just skim enough to survive. They don’t want to be Kajillionaires.

(L to R) Evan Rachel Wood as (L to R) Evan Rachel Wood as "Old Dolio Dyne", Debra Winger as "Theresa Dyne" and Richard Jenkins as "Robert Dyne" in director Miranda July's KAJILLIONAIRE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Matt Kennedy / Focus Features

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The catch is that despite a lifetime of practice, they are not very good at it and live a hand to mouth existence. Whenever something pays off, their reaction is usually pleasant surprise. The father is always defining their lives in terms of counter-culture, and living-off-grid. He’s always wise to what’s really going on, alert to the unseen vines that The System uses to entrap us. But he is a wide eyed rube when he comes into contact with glamour and materialism, in the shape of Rodriguez.

What is writer/ director July trying to pull here? The scam/con artist film usually hinges on the “or am I?” tension, trying to work out a character’s true nature.

That’s lost here because the characters’ actions are always so completely random there doesn’t appear to be any consistent through-line. It’s as if July is playing dice man with their motivations. Jenkins and Winger are both very fine but at no point do they suggest a bond which would have kept them together for so many years.

Probably the only connection they have is both appearing in this screenplay. Wood plays the daughter as a sullen, yet obedient teenager and her performance is the most caricatured, yet by the end, she’s the only one who is remotely credible.

We can understand how messed up she feels.

2/5 stars

Directed by Miranda July. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins and Mark Ivanir. In cinemas. Running time: 106 mins.


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