Because They’re My Parents
By Sadira Sittampalam
Kajillionaire is a 2020 film directed by Miranda July concerning the lives of two con artists who have spent 26 years training their only daughter to swindle, scam and steal at every turn.
During a hastily conceived heist, quite desperately put together, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down. This comedy/crime drama is a pretty unusual film but not in a particularly groundbreaking way. It has some interesting concepts and ideas, but none of them are achieved succinctly and cohesively, nor in a way that is particularly impactful.
The movie begins with one of the family’s small scams at the post office. You see how a number of their methods and heists don’t pan out in the way they hope, often being unsuccessful in their goals, while they also gamble away the money they do earn. It seems like a rather treacherous and unpredictable life, but the entire family is together in their plights.
The only issue is their daughter slowly starts to realise the things she has been lacking her entire life in this lifestyle of where the only ‘parenting’ she receives is their money split three ways. She discovers tenderness and intimacy – concepts so foreign to her she doesn’t even know how to open herself up to it. This is where this film succeeds in giving us a great exploration of parenting, intimacy and openness in a way that is never direct or obvious. Everything is told in a way where you have to put two and two together, while the film just showcases its narrative.
However, the film also left a lot to be desired in terms of an explanation or justification of its setting. It all seemed pretty ridiculous that these parents would actually raise their daughter in such a rigid and impersonal fashion, especially as no sort of reasoning was given as to why they would behave in such a way.
It was just very unconvincing and took away from many of the film’s ideas as this foundational fact was ignored. Furthermore, while the story was certainly unusually told with some strange characters, the basic structure of the narrative didn’t stray too far away from anything that has already been done. So while people might praise this film for its uniqueness and bizarreness, it doesn’t really play out that way. Something pretty unique, however, was the very distinct tone that July managed to create throughout the film.
While I am unfamiliar with any of July’s other works, you can almost hear July’s voice guiding the film and giving you a feeling that is warm and tender yet anxious and isolating. It was pretty amazing to see how successfully she was able to subtly brand her films with her marking, especially since this is a skill that not many filmmakers have. A lot of this was done through the delightful cinematography which smeared everything with a soft cake-like glaze. Thus, everything about the visuals of this film was first class and incredibly distinct to July’s style.
However, this skill did not match up to the film itself as a lot of its elements were subpar. It calls itself a comedy in certain regards and while the film is occasionally humorous, I don’t think that label is accurate. The story was also something that I didn’t particularly connect to, as there was just a thin layer of distance between the emotional arcs of the story and my reception of it.
The narrative was simply too farfetched, and even the emotional beats of the story which I can clearly observe and identify never felt entirely real or grounded. Another aspect that did take me out of the movie was Evan Rachel Wood’s voice, which she made several notes deeper. Since I know exactly what she sounds like, the deep voice felt pretty fake and put-on. I do quite enjoy Wood’s performances usually, and while this one was perfectly fine, the voice just did not work.
Overall, this film has been made by a very talented director, but not the best writer (which was also July, for the record). There were so many style elements that would have made this movie so easy to love, but the story was just so impenetrable and inaccessible, it pretty much fell flat on its back - it is just a misguided case of style over substance. While this isn’t a film I’d recommend, it did make me more interested in July as a director and in all her previous works. Furthermore, it important to note that while this film isn’t that great, it is still a lot better than the standard crime or drama movies that are coming out these days.