It’s called a hustle, sweetheart, but not the kind you’d expect.
“Kajillionaire,” the latest entry from writer/director Miranda July, is a crime drama that’s much different than the trailers portray. It feels like it going to splice the qualities of “Ocean’s Eleven” with “The Florida Project” and “Hustlers,” but it also takes a different approach. This one regards bad parenting, lies, and deception.
We meet a Los Angeles family in poverty-the parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) and their daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood)-who all struggle to survive on stealing checks and any kind of mail. There’s even an expensive tie that Robert thinks about selling, among the packages.
They all live in a bubble factory office, where the walls leak pink foam occasionally and tremors shake their area. They’re driving their landlord up the wall with their delayed rental payments, and that’s why we see them sneaking in and out. It’s hard the way they handle things.
Old Dolio has a plan to fly to New York with plane tickets she won and fake their lost luggage for cash under her travel insurance. It would enough to pay their rent, but unfortunately for them, it could take up to six weeks.
Then comes a new member named Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an “Ocean’s Eleven” fan, who helps them pull off their con jobs, and earns their connection with her. Meanwhile, Old Dolio criticizes her parents for being lousy, after attending some parenting classes. They never once called her “hon” or “sweetheart” or “baby.” And that’s why she earns a better friendship with Melanie than with them.
The money game in “Kajillionaire” tends to get confusing and convoluted, but July doesn’t write the film as an “Ocean’s Eleven” wannabe. She isn’t concerned with the money game; she’s concerned with the poor characters in her world. A life of crime can turn you against others, and better influences can return the favor.
The performances from the cast are more meaningful than the con job, because they represent people in harsh realities. Wood does an electrifying job portraying a slouchy, husky-voiced young woman, who lives a crappy life, and blames her parents. Jenkins and Winger both deliver the goods when they portray struggling dwellers. And Rodriguez uses her beautiful and smart characteristics to play the new member of their group.
There’s a sequence in the movie that I thought had a sense of vision and humor. After a tremor hits, and Old Dolio thinks it was her impending doom, she runs out of a building in excitement, and nearly buying a bunch of junk food at local convenient store. And that scene ends with Melanie finishing her FaceTime chat, and finds her friend crawling on the ground. I was actually tickled by that scene for how July presents it.
This is the kind of movie, in which you’re going to buy a ticket feeling satisfied or conned, depending on how you view the movie. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, so I’m interested to know your feelings about this movie, if our stars cross paths. For now, in my perspectives, I didn’t understand the money game, but I sympathize the main young women, and I endorse this movie for cutting back on the crime movie cliches. The police don’t need to be involved, and I’m not bribing anyone.