Every once in a while it’s nice to stray off the beaten path.
It breaks things up and offers a little diversion and departure from the routine.
Such is the case of Kajillionaire.
It’s an offbeat comedy that shares a little with movies like Napoleon Dynamite (2004).
When I saw Napoleon for the first time, I sat there in stunned silence, scratching my head and wondering what all the full was about.
About a dozen viewings later (admittedly, it had a strange almost hypnotic attraction) I started to get it. You either love it or hate it. Or start out hating it and end up loving it.
All I know is that it’s nearly impossible to describe it to people who haven’t seen it and communicate what’s so funny about it.
It defies explanation. You either get it or you don’t.
The same holds true of Kajillionaire. I’ll do my best to describe it, but you’re going to have to see it yourself and make up your own mind.
Story-wise, it’s about two strange parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) and their equally strange only daughter whose name is Old Dolio—that’s right, Old Dolio—played by Evan Rachel Wood, known for her starring role in the HBO series Westworld.
The three of them are what you might call grifters, scavengers, or small time con artists, living in the precarious world of contemporary California where frequent tremors remind everyone that “the big one” could strike at any moment.
They are modern-day hippies, trying to survive in today’s world (pre-pandemic).
Even their 26 year olddaughter is a throwback to a time a half century ago when girls had long straight blonde hair, parted down the middle and oversized glasses.
She wears a frumpy green jogging outfit and speaks in a monotone husky voice that is borderline annoying.
She and her parents live like squatters in a rented space next to what appears to be a car-wash business called Bubbles, Inc.
For some inexplicable reason, a thick wall of pink suds slides down the wall of their abandoned office environment on a daily basis. It’s like a less-threatening version of The Blob (1958).
Less a threat to your life than a messy, sudsy, pink pain in the ass that has to be ritually and routinely scooped up.
Their behavior is amusing. In order to avoid detection when walking past Bubbles, Inc, they awkwardly lean backwards, looking like members of Monty Python doing the Minister of Silly Walks routine.
The scams are amusing.
The movie opens with the three of them outside a post office where Old Dolio launches into a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible moment, breaking into an elaborate sequence of acrobatics that will allow her to gain access to the mailboxes inside without being caught on surveillance cameras.
They grab what they can get, cash in what they can and try to pay a huge rent bill that is overdue.
It’s not your typical family. They are, and have been, equal partners in crime ever since Old Dolio was a young child.
What they take in is a cold, three-way split. They amusingly exist off the grid in their own alternate reality.
Along the way, Old Dolio has been denied the love and affection that most kids receive on their way to a well-balanced adult life.
She’s a real freak, and not just in the hippie sense. The only thing she knows how to do is participate in a never-ending cycle of petty crime.
Things change one day, when they encounter Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an attractive young woman who falls into their sights as another potential victim.
When she realizes what she’s getting herself into, she decides not to turn them in, but to stay aboard and play along.
She becomes a willing accomplice.
But the game that the family plays is a complex one that is calculating and cruel. And that’s when Kajillionaire gets interesting.
Admittedly, the strangeness and unpredictability of the film becomes its greatest strength.
It’s odd. It’s weird. But you can’t stop watching it just to see where it goes.
It takes a few intriguing turns. Like when they break into a home only to discover that the only occupant is an old man, pathetically dying in his bedroom with an oxygen tube jammed in his nose.
He mumbles that dying is hard, “like trying to fall asleep forever.”
It’s a morbidly bizarre scene. Not the stuff you would expect to find in a comedy, even a kooky, contemporary one.
Another memorable moment involves Old Dolio and Melanie in a convenience store ladies room when one of the many terrifying tremors begins to happen.
It’s at that point that you realize the filmmakers are messing with your head as much as the characters in the movie are messing with each other.
It’s perhaps the best sequence in the film, very cleverly staged.
What Kajillionaire has going for it, more than anything is the cast.
They are all great, but Gina Rodriguez flat-out steals the show.
There are some surprises along the way, though the big reveal at the end is one that you’ve been anticipating all along.
I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying that it’s pretty much what you were expecting.
Unlike Napoleon Dynamite, I’m not sure that Kajillionaire would get much better with repeated viewings the way some cult comedies grow on you over time.
You pretty much get it the first time around. A repeated viewing might only be to relish the quirky performances. And they are worth watching.
It’s fun just to see Evan Rachel Wood exploring the dramatic/comedic nuances related to the tossing the hair of her long blonde wig.
As I watched the movie, I started to wonder if it might have been a better theater production than an independent film. Keep an eye out for it in some future off-Broadway production.
Early on, the dad states that “Most people want to be Kajillionaires, That’s the dream."
That may be true. But Kajillionaires proves that crime will probably not get you there.
Kajillionaire opens in theaters September 25.
Photos courtesy Focus Features.