The Dyme family knows how to run scams to get money to subsist. Subsisting is all they seem to be able to do in the movie Kajillionaire. The Dyne family consists of a husband, Robert (Richard Jenkins) and his wife Theresa (Debra Winger), who used to be a part of the working world, but for reasons they never explain, they didn't remain there. They had a daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), who joins them in their small-time escapades, and specializes in forgery. They live in an abandoned office building in Los Angeles and pay very cheap rent to Stovik (Mark Ivanir) because their residence experiences a nightly leakage of soap bubbles. Everybody in the neighborhood knows the trio runs scams, and they will take any minimal payday in the hope that they get paid in cash instead of gifts or services.
Some scams, though, have run their course, especially after their local post office changes the locks and installs a camera to prevent theft.. With rent overdue, the elder Dynes decide to use free plane trip tickets to run a lost luggage scam. They also invite Melanie Whitacre (Gina Rodriguez), a more successful scammer, to accompany them and Old Dovio and get new money ideas. The four of them target the elderly for their money by pretending they're long lost relatives or they have a prescription delivery. In between jobs, Old Dovio starts to bond with Melanie, with whom she shares goals her parents didn't let her fulfill. Melanie agrees to help Old Dovio achieve these attainable goals. When Old Dovio gets the lost luggage check, she decides to use it for a purpose other than paying Stovik the money the family owes him.
Kajillionaire is, in part, a statement about the income gap and generation gap from writer-director Miranda July. At one point, Robert notes that during the years he held a job, he was around a lot of people who unashamedly wanted as much wealth as their work could get them. On the other hand, Robert and Theresa raised Old Dovio to be more accomplice than daughter, making little effort to be true providers. From the opening sequence, viewers can see that that role had taken a toll on Old Dovio, who behaves rather immaturely as her parents send her to raid the post office boxes she can reach. July's fable, however, isn't very compelling because I couldn't sympathize much with this family. July specializes in the quirky, but the Dynes are very irritating. The quirky people from July's 2005 debut, Me And You And Everyone We Know, try to do right as they navigate new relationships. The main characters here make little effort to do right, and they're often beyond caring in that regard. The other factor that hurts Kajillionaire is the snail's pace at which this film moves. The pace and the characters give this the one-two punch of doom.
Rodriguez is the brightest spot in this bleak picture as Melanie. She happily aids the Dynes as they seek new capers, and has a sunnier disposition than any member of that trio. She gladly explores an unexpected opportunity when Old Dolio pitches an idea. Melanie certainly has a better notion of success than the Dynes, as the family learns when they visit Melanie's apartment. Jenkins, a reliable character actor, has some good moments as Robert, who uses any successful scheme as a cause to celebrate, as if he done as well as his old co-workers. He still dreams, in spite of his family's reality. Winger is also good as Theresa, who has accepted that the family's fortunes are unlikely to improve. The real weak spot is Wood, for whom I could sympathize only so much. It's terrible that Old Dolio had such a lonely childhood and a lousy name. Her deep voice and childish mannerisms, though, grow increasingly grating during the course of the movie. I may not always approve of the actions of her conflicted character, Dolores Abernathy, on Westworld, but Dolores is much more focused and relatable than Old Dolio.
So many people dream of riches, but so few get them. Robert and Theresa Dyne were once surrounded by people who got rich, but never joined the ranks of the affluent. Not only did they fail in the working world, they failed as parents because they connected to their daughter in bad way. What's more, the couple and their daughter find little success at cheating. Charlie Brown, at least, had a good run at the spelling bee without even thinking about cheating somebody else. Kajillionaire has some interesting ideas, but these ideas get lost in the execution. Too much of this fictional trio turned out to be too much to overcome.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Kajillionaire 1.5 stars. Going for broke in the wrong way.
© 2020 Pat Mills