Director Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future) has a knack for tapping into a part of the American psyche and she returns to this well with the endearing, bittersweet Kajillionaire. The narrative follows a family as they grift through life, with the arrival of an outsider opening up the possibility for an even more lucrative con.
This film will certainly not be for everyone. At times the surface-level quirks can grate, with Sebastian Winterø’s cinematography giving a bright, almost artificial sheen to the setting and Emile Mosseri's score fascinatingly intrusive. You certainly have to go along with Kajillionaire as it forges a more off-kilter path, with some abrasive choices made by July. It has a quality that has been seen in indie cinema from America over the past two decades but there is something else here. July brings a soulfulness to her writing, a delicate balance to her direction that makes Kajillionaire a darker affair than the marketing material and opening act would lead you to expect. This is certainly an acquired taste and will be off-putting for some. But if you go with it you will be rewarded with a complicated work that makes a nuanced point about the state of America today.
The cast give universally interesting performances that complicate as proceedings progress, reframed by how the plot develops. Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins are beloved actors and the film uses their status to hide that they are playing relatively monstrous individuals who have damaged their daughter. Winger and Jenkins are all quirks, gifted some of the best lines in the first half, before this starts to drift away and we are left with the harsh reality of who they are.
The world of Kajillionaire is one where its younger characters are living with some terrible choices made by the generation above them. As the embodiment of this, no turn is more interesting than the one at the centre. There is so much going on with Evan Rachel Wood in this film, she seems to carry a weight far beyond her years. The moments she loosens up are transformative, allowing you to see the figure who is underneath all the damage wrought by her parents. The chemistry she has with Gina Rodriguez is electric and you spend much of the run time rooting for these two to escape the cycle they have been born into.
Kajillionaire is a cinematic surprise, initially looking like it will be overwhelmed by its creative ticks but later allowing itself to burst free and tell a bittersweet story of the state of America. July, as always, is a fascinating creative and gives her cast plenty to do, with her film rewarded by exceptional performances, in particular from Evan Rachel Wood.