Kajillionaire is an interesting, little art house movie that examines a man and woman and their adult daughter who live in a world of lies, theft and deceit – and a complete lack of emotion.
Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) are borderline insane, living by their wits on the edge of society in modern Los Angeles. Their daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is completely damaged, raised with no hint of love or affection.
In one tragic scene she begs her mother to call her by an affectionate nickname for the first time in her life, to show her some modicum of parental love. Theresa is embarrassed and says doing so would not accomplish anything.
Old Dolio, who was named after a dying man in the hopes he would leave the baby money, knows nothing of life beyond following her parents’ orders.
Wood is amorphous, looking as dirty and disheveled as a homeless woman. She sometimes looks like a young teenager and others as a young woman. The character is fragile, can’t bear to be touched, or even spoken to. When she begs for comfort from the only two people she trusts, they deny her.
The make-up people are to be commended for transforming the gorgeous Wood into a street person in one scene, and a bashful beauty in another. Wood, a veteran of television and films, is best known for the film Across the Universe. She also appeared in television shows like American Gothic, Westworld,and Mildred Pierce.
Jenkins, playing a role that would have been perfect for John Lithgow, is a man struggling to survive but not willing to follow societal rules that would include taking an actual job.
Winger, who normally plays powerful women, plays a subdued, cowed mother as devoid of feeling as her husband.
The family lives in mortal fear of a giant earthquake that will destroy them all and California, a judgment from a god that they know will find them wanting. There are several minor rumblers in the film, which cause the family to react like frightened deer.
Instead of fleeing the city to avoid the death by earthquake they’re certain is coming, they simply steal and grift every moment in an attempt to survive. But the schemes are weak and sad and only work on people who are old and desperate, which does not matter to the family.
The lightning bolt of change in the movie comes when they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) a smart woman fascinated by this bizarre world on theft and intrigue. Melanie is willing to steal, but has a conscience. When she sees through the fiction at the sad world the family inhabits, she rejects it and tries to take Old Dolio with her as her lover.
Kajillionaire is a slim movie with other actors playing momentary roles, but it revolves around the family. They spend their lives keeping one step away from either jail or a mental institution, either of which would have been an improvement.
The story was written and directed by Miranda July and a featured film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It opens in theaters Friday, Sept. 25.
Michael Sangiacomo is a freelance writer living in South Amherst.