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MOVIES: Kajillionaire - Review (LFF 2020)

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I can’t help but be disappointed by this highly anticipated indie drama which was one of my most anticipated LFF movies. Many reviews have billed Kajillionaire as the American version of Shoplifters and to an extent there are some elements of truth to that in its DNA, focusing on a poor family of Blue-Collar grifters, and an unhealthy parent/offspring dynamic at its core. With injections of Wes Anderson-esque indie quirkiness and charm that almost becomes a bit too overbearing at the best of times, the final experience was not quite what I’d hoped and it feels more insufferable than anything else which is not what I wanted going in. To say it does not earn its comparisons is an understatement.

Miranda July’s stylish film injects its fair share of Americana to the table as Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins have spent the last 26 years training their daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, to swindle and scam their way out of trouble. But in classic heist dramas time is running out before they have to pay a bill and they need a big score in order to meet it in time. Enter from stage left: a stranger, played by Gina Rodriguez – who is about to turn the family’s world upside down.

If the cast of Ocean’s Eleven was all one family the result might look something like Kajillionaire. The film combines its exploitative parents with its manipulated daughter who has at this point, been treated far too harshly for anyone. The film itself shows the issues that Wood’s character, named Old Dolio, has had growing up and explore what the difference of a normal childhood makes to a person – few can grift, dodge cameras and steal mail as well as Old Dolio can, but it’s a life that is seeming less and less appealing by the day. This film makes for a fascinating case study of parental-sibling dynamic and issues with intimacy and identity even if it never quite manages to avoid over-indulging on its whimsical feel to the point where it strips the film of any other identity.

One of the biggest achievements of Kajillionaire is that it takes this outlandish situation and applies it to real life in a way that doesn’t feel absurd in the slightest despite its quirky charm. But the film’s uniqueness is lost in its indie format. The themes are obviously highlighted at every turn and it’s rare that they disappoint – with the biggest strength of the movie being its final thirty minutes where the themes are laid bare for anyone struggling to comprehend them and you completely connect with Evan Rachel Wood’s character regardless of the situation that you find yourself in prior to that point. It’s definitely a movie that overcomes a fairly flawed middle act as it transforms into something special, with the end result being an incredibly affectionate ending. But Kajillionaire can't escape the feeling of too little, too late.

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