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Kajillionaire

Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 09/29/20 08:10:01

"Insipid to the Point of Inertia"
1 stars (Total Crap)

Both mainstream and art-house viewers will be highly displeased by this unsatisfying nonsense.

The independent picture Kajillionaire is a joyless cinematic exercise about joyless people told in such a joyless manner it leaves you in something of a state of catatonia throughout. The writer/director Miranda July, a performance artist responsible for four shorts and two feature films (none of which I've seen), has tried to "tell us something" about the frailty of the human condition centering on a trio of small-time Los Angeles grifters - father Robert (Richard Jenkins), mother Theresa (Debra Winger), oddly-named twenty-six-year-old daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) - who've emptied themselves of anything even remotely resembling vitality so as to blend in with everyday society so as to never stick out so they're not remembered by any possible witnesses to their crimes. In the first scene the daughter dodges surveillance cameras both outside and inside a downtown post office so she can open up the family's PO box so she can stick her hand all the way inside and steal whatever's in the boxes to the left and right, and already we know the movie isn't playing with a full deck - risking serious jail time for a federal offense that would yield nothing even remotely worth the risk? Then the three make their way to their living abode next to a soap-bubble company: it's actually an office suite at just five-hundred dollars a month so as to avoid apartment-level rates; and, of course, they're five months behind on the rent, and, of course, the landlord is made out to be a cartoonish simpleton who frustratingly puts up with it. And the parents, who look to be in their early 60s, don't seem any brighter with next to nil in life experience: in an inane scam to try collect fifteen-hundred dollars from baggage insurance for a suitcase that was never actually lost, they're shocked it'll take up to six weeks to get the check when they're expecting it within a week. An airline being slow on processing a payment? Don't stop the presses. (Speaking of which, has July ever been on a plane? We see the family pocketing leftover food from seat trays while disembarking when, as we all know, trash is collected and trays are put in the upright position before landing.) Hardly anything in Kajillionaire has any basis in the everyday - it's so divorced from reality it never convinces on even an elemental level, and that's because July is so hell-bent on making something so decidedly "quirky" she eschews any semblances of ratiocination and honest observation. (I hated last year's similar Oscar-winning Parasite for both its smugness and juvenility that I found repellent, but at least the characters didn't come off as if Dracula himself had sucked every ounce of life out of them.) July makes the fundamental error of portraying these shallow characters shallowly (they're as close to ciphers as you can get), yet, amazingly, working in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time, she oftentimes serves up first-rate widescreen compositions with deft placement of the actors, which can be particularly cumbersome with a movie comprised of mostly talking-heads scenes. The overriding problem, however, is July can't get anything interesting going on within the frames; there's a thing called "film language," a born instinct for what will and won't play on the screen, and July is direly devoid of it, at least on a non-performance-art level. Kajillionaire is glacially sluggish with all the narrative drive of an infomercial, and the only reason I kept in my seat was the excellent supporting performance by the game Gina Rodriguez who plays a gorgeous, sexy lesbian who eventually becomes the daughter's spritely love interest. The movie is an all-out disaster, but Rodriguez manages to come through with a creditable dramatic interpretation you can respect the hell out of in light of what she's constantly up against. She admirably takes some of the stink off this mendacious manure.

Watch 1990's masterful "The Grifters" instead.

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