Sunday, December 20, 2020

Contenders ’20: Kajillionaire

Old Dolio Dyne's parents are so poor, they take the bus in Los Angeles. Technically, they are not unemployed. Being small time grifters (with the emphasis on “small”), they are constantly running penny ante scams. If they would just work for an honest wage, they would probably have much more money and free time. Their daughter also could have grown-up in a more stable environment, but instead she only learned chaos and corruption. As a poorly socialized twenty-six-year-old, Dyne finally starts to examine her codependent, dysfunctional relationship with her parents in Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, which screens online through Tuesday for MoMA members as a selection of the year’s Contenders (and also releases on DVD the 22nd).

Old Dolio’s name is a sad joke that will be revealed midway through the second act. Regardless, it is safe to say Robert and Theresa Dyne were never big on parental stuff, like birthday presents or affection. All day they have Old Dolio running nickel-and-dime scams, but they are still in danger of eviction. To raise three months’ rent, she hatches a lost luggage scheme, using tickets she won in a sweepstakes. However, Dyne is rather annoyed when her parents give more attention to a perfect stranger on their immediate flight home than they ever showed to her.

Melanie is outgoing and attractive, but for some reason, she is intrigued by the Dyne family’s scamming ways. In contrast, Old Dolio obviously resents the way her parents try to adopt Melanie into their criminal family. Further complicating matters, there is a hint of sexual tension between the repressed Dyne and the vastly more sexually confident Melanie.

Despite some excess indie quirk,
Kajillionaire is considerably more endurable than the neuroses-fest of July’s last feature, The Future. Many of the Dynes’ cheap scams are surprisingly watchable. Yet, the complicated, evolving relationship dynamic between Dyne and Melanie, which takes over the second half of the picture, is even more compelling.

Debra Winger (as in
An Officer and a Gentleman) is completely unrecognizable as “Mother” Theresa, but it is basically as one-note caricatured performance. Richard Jenkins fleshes out the Dyne patriarch a bit more, but the film is really powered by Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez, as the rival daughter figures.

Sometimes her halting, guttural voice sounds a little too affected, but the way Wood portrays Dyne’s social anxiety feels painfully real. However, Gina Rodriguez might just be the star of the film (ironically stealing the spotlight from a trio of crooks). She brings a lot of humor and energy to the film, while also providing a grounding perspective.

looks nearly as drab as The Future did, but in this case, it suits the Dyne family’s low-rent world. Regardless, this is a much better film. It is really pretty good at capturing the grubbiness of small-time crime, as well as the dramatic consequences. Recommended for fans of indie con artists, Kajillionaire screens through Tuesday (12/22), as part of MoMA’s Contenders and releases the same day on DVD.