The latest work from the director of Me and You and Everyone We Know is tender and, at times, heartbreaking.
Not too long ago, I came across an article lamenting the current lack of good Indie movies, not only intended as works produced outside Hollywood, but as an aesthetic form of filmmaking. The critique was mainly addressed to Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which, according to the writer, was a mere pastiche of incomprehensible references and not what would be expected from the brain behind Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Despite having liked I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I agreed with what the article pointed out. After decades of great Indie movies, that started with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and continued up to Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, the genre seemed to have come to a creative void.
That is until I watched Kajillionaire by Miranda July, which screened at the BFI London Film Festival. I must admit I approached the film mostly unaware of July’s previous work: of course, I had heard of Me and You and Everyone We Know, but, apart from that, I didn’t know what to expect from Kajillionaire. I soon discovered that July’s latest effort is one of the best Indie movies of recent times.
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins and Gina Rodriguez, Kajillionaire is the story of a bizarre family that live off petty crimes, as stealing mails, forging signatures, and taking advantage of lonely people. Old Dolio (Wood) – the film will reveal why she’s named in such a weird way – and her parents (Winger and Jenkins) spend their nights in an abandoned office where one of the walls gets covered in pink bubbles.
Scene after scene, it becomes clear that Old Dolio is getting weary of this – to say the least – uncommon routine and starts pondering about alternatives. Her life suddenly changes when she encounters Melanie (Rodriguez).
Kajillionaire has all the elements of successful indie films: a quirk storyline told with inventiveness, a great score from composer Emile Mosseri and a wonderful main character brilliantly played by Evan Rachel Wood.
Old Dolio is central to the film: sweet and innocent, she’s been exploited by her parents since the day she was born. The girl, however, is not fitted for this kind of life: in the scene where her family plan to take advantage of a dying man, she shows a form of compassion that her parents will never be able to feel or understand. It was since the lovable little girl in Little Miss Sunshine that a character wasn’t so profoundly moving.
Also, what works here is the Los Angeles setting. The city entails so many facets as to appear in the most diverse of stories, from a Hollywood musical romance such as La La Land to this film, where, instead of the glistening lights we find the never-ending suburbs inhabited by the characters. A peculiar environment where, as in Robert Altman’s Shortcuts, the rhythm of the day is dictated by quakes.
Miranda July has stated that during the process of making of the film, Spike Jonze’s support was essential. Whilst watching Kajillionaire, I often found myself thinking of Jonze’s Being John Malkovich for they share a similar oddball comedy mood. Also, Old Dolio reminds of Cameron Diaz’s character in Jonze’s movie, both women dressed in shabby clothes and neglected by whom is supposed to care for them.
A display of tenderness and a certain romanticism was what made Indie movies so unique, and July infuses Kajillionaire with both. The film is touching and – at times – heartbreaking, a work of great emotional force that could be the beginning of an Indie renaissance.