A family of con artists look for their latest grift in Miranda July’s deeply strange comedy Kajillionaire


The people in Miranda July's films tend to look at the world through a lens of wonder and wistfulness, but her third feature Kajillionaire is about people who move through life with uneasiness, doubt and cynicism, and who are actively looking for a quick buck.

It centers on a family of grifters, a middle-aged married couple (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) and their 20-something daughter with the unusual name of Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). The first time we see them, they appear to be unmoored from any recognizable signpost of the 21st century: Their outdated and oversized thrift store clothes and unkempt, knee-length hair suggest they time-traveled from the late 1970s.

They're career con artists, but their scams tend to have remarkably low stakes: They steal packages and return the contents to Target for a refund, or create multiple email accounts to enter online sweepstakes. They sleep on the floor in the abandoned office space attached to a bubble factory; a mess of pink suds cascades down the wall twice a day, the family dutifully collecting the bubbles into garbage bins and dumping them into a nearby drain.

As the film opens, they've scored some free plane tickets, and on the trip back, they deliberately misplace a piece of luggage so they can collect the airline's $1,000 loss fee. But there's an unexpected wrinkle: Dad starts chatting with a fellow passenger named Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), and she's so intrigued by this strange family's way of life that she suggests her own grift, targeting the elderly customers of her eyeglasses shop.

Melanie represents a rupture in their hermetically sealed universe, and her full-throated acceptance of the con artist lifestyle leads Old Dolio to question not only her prickly relationship with her parents but with her unequivocal acceptance of their bizarre worldview. There's a moment where Old Dolio finally breaks free from her parents' control, and it's one of the oddest and most memorable moments of the year.

Kajillionaire is a deeply unusual film, which shouldn't be a surprise if you're familiar with July's work. Since her 2005 breakout Me and You and Everyone We Know, a quirky and guileless piece about love and coincidence, she's brought a cockeyed sense of humor to her weird stories about weird people. Kajillionaire is no exception, and though its characters often hold themselves at an emotional distance from one another, it ends on a note of unspoken sacrifice that moved me more than I anticipated. ♦

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Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the former music and film editor of the Inlander. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.