The performances from our main cast (Especially Evan Rachel Wood) help drive Kajillionaire. Despite the opening struggles it becomes a touching, tender film.
Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) and her parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) are a trio of small-time hustlers who live in an abandoned and decrepit LA office block. Spectacularly dysfunctional as parents, the couple has tried to spare their daughter the mediocrity of conventional life by treating her as an adult companion, seeing ordinary paternal affection as infantilising. But this has left her starved for tenderness. So, when the family meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) during an elaborate scam involving lost luggage, Old Dolio’s heart is stirred.
Despite the petty crimes that Old Dolio commits, your heart aches for her. She has never known love or affection from her parents. Even her name was given to her so Robert and Theresa could get extra money. She is also socially broken. Unable to take anything at face value as there has to be an ulterior motive for someone to communicate with her.
This is exacerbated when Melanie joins the crew and Robert and Theresa see her value and cater to Melanie affectionately to keep her in the group. This destroys Old Dolio, who never got to encounter this form of love from her parents. The realisation for Old Dolio that she can find love and care from others (including a family) is stark and almost harrowing for her. The utter lack of care that her parents provide her is traumatising. Yet, we are hopeful that she will find it somewhere out there. Even if it is away from her neglecting family.
From Melanie’s appearance onwards the film begins to become a tad softer. More focused on the conflicting relationships we have with our parents (even like the ones we have here in Robert and Theresa). For those in emotionally dysfunctional families, they will immediately relate to Old Dolio’s woes.
Evan Rachel Wood is sensational in what could be considered the best performance of her career. Subdued and conflicted. Wood plays Old Dolio with a sense of realism that allows you to feel sympathy for instead of an all-out quirky character. It is a complex performance and one that with any slight mistake could have fallen into parody very quickly.
Perfectly balancing out Woods in Kajillionaire refrained performance is Gina Rodriguez. Bringing so much warmth to her role that you have to not only take notice of her but also feel comfort from her as she puts a figurative arm around Old Dolio. Her arrival is a blessing and that has to thanks to a wonderful performance from Rodriguez.
Thought should be spared for Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger here, who look like they are having an utter blast. July needed to cast such strong character actors as Jenkins and Winger or their roles really would have driven the film down. With the thoughts that these two are unredeemable. The duo truly save the characters (obviously thanks to July’s writing) and create complex characters. This simply do not know any better and only go with what they know. Like all parents really.
Sadly, for all the positives, Kajillionaire has severe difficulties with the story and direction in the opening act. Relying far too heavily on the cast to get away with their quirky con-artist shenanigans. The feeling remains that these scenes are there to be quirky for the sake of quirky and to not build the characters up as well to the audience.
It is a difficult thing to put your finger on for why Kajillionaire doesn’t work here. It could be several things, but two come to mind. Simply put, it takes far too long for the film to get over the general conceit of who this family is. Thus the balance of the film takes a hit. It could also be that for a film tries to base itself in a semblance of reality, only to for unknown reasons subvert from it. Unlike a film such as Shoplifters that was able to mix quirks with true real sombre moments.
This is such a shame as I was rooting for it to be an all-round great film. It is still worth a watch for the performances alone but will be considered for a film that could have been so much stronger. Luckily, the second and third act more than makes up for this as we build more on Old Dolio’s relationship with her parents and Melanie.
Thankfully as mentioned the final act tries to balance the film out and right the course before all is lost. Kajillionaire is as surreal a film can be when centred in a real world environment. July’s writing makes sure that it has warmth and heart that is what wins you over.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!