In “Kajillionaire,” Theresa, Robert and Old Dolio execute some pathetic scams. One of their regular attempts to rob post office boxes results in a necktie of questionable value and a coupon they hope to redeem for cash.
They’re grifters through and through in director Miranda July’s offbeat take on a heist movie. She dials down the crimes to petty theft and instead of charismatic thieves, she focuses on a nuclear family of nervous loners who scrape by in Los Angeles.
The family lives in an office space rented from a company called Bubbles Inc., and on a daily basis, mystery foam spills over from the factory side and oozes down their wall. Still, they can barely manage the $500 monthly rent on the place and try to avoid the factory manager who is their landlord. They routinely sneak along a low section of fence by the plant to avoid detection, and it looks like a rip-off of the Monty Python sketch about the Ministry of Silly Walks. Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) bends so far backwards, she looks like she’s trying to limbo under an entire banquet table.
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“Kajillionaire” is a deadpan and slightly absurd comedy, and some of its allure comes from unexplained weirdness and anxious tension. The trio are a family, but they have consciously opted out of all sorts of normalcy, even providing emotional support to a child. Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins are great as the eccentric but emotionally unavailable parents. They barely treat Old Dolio as their daughter. Instead, she’s more an apprentice and partner in an array of scams. They describe their relationship as everyone being entitled to a third of the take.
It’s never explained why they live the way they do. Maybe they’re cheap. Maybe the parents are aging malcontents who chose to rebel against traditional family life. At times they are paranoid. But at the end of the day, their efforts to avoid jobs seem to generate a lot of work. They have devoted an inordinate amount of time to figuring out where security cameras are located, and they scrutinize loopholes in return policies. The rewards, however, are very low. It’s almost a satire of decline, as the trio’s joy at pulling off a scam is blind to the way they’re actually settling for peanuts and falling behind.
Their strange relationship is rocked when Old Dolio accepts money to attend a mandated parenting class for a pregnant woman who doesn’t want to go herself. Old Dolio is emotionally shutdown and frequently speaks in a grumble or whisper, trudging along after her parents as they sniff out the next tiny treasure. The image of a baby crawling to its mother awakens her curiosity.
Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) enters the picture as a potential victim, but that doesn’t go according to plan. She’s vivacious and carefree and tries to help Old Dolio come out of her shell, which allows Rodriguez to steal the show when she’s onscreen. On the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense why Melanie gets involved with a nervous bunch of thieves.
July sticks to her scheme and isn’t just looking for easy laughs. That makes it hard not to wonder about the psychoses involved. The parents’ determination and self-satisfaction is darkly funny though not hilarious. Old Dolio’s awakening is a relief, but it leaves one wondering what her parents have stolen from her.
“Kajillionaire” opens Sept. 25 at The Broad Theater.
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