In recent years, the word “quirky” has acquired a negative connotation. The “I’m not like other girls” trope has become a popular internet meme, poking fun at the desire to stand out and revealing the inherent misogyny that exists within alternative creative circles. This strain of subculture has left more traditional indie films like 500 Days of Summer and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in the dust, paving the way for a new era of alternative media spurred by the New Age politics and online antics of Gen Z. DIY musicians, filmmakers, artists, and various other creatives litter the internet as young adults take their collective frustration with mainstream versions of quirkiness into their own hands. Despite this confusing mix of aversion to conventional quirkiness and simultaneous desire for originality, veteran “alt girl” Miranda July delivers a new indie darling with Kajillionaire that might just be her best (and quirkiest) project to date.
Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio Dyne, a tracksuit-wearing, decidedly Amish-looking 26-year-old trained con artist residing in the Los Angeles area with her oddball, anti-capitalist parents Robert Dyne (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa Dyne (Debra Winger). The trio leads an unconventional life, spending their days pulling notably small-time cons, cleaning up the excess bubbles from the unspecified industrial building where they live in exchange for a lower rent, and evading their overly emotional landlord, Stovik (Mark Ivanir). When their money runs out and Stovik tearfully demands their $1,500 rent, Old Dolio forges a larger con in which they fly to New York (on a free airline coupon, of course) and “lose” her luggage in order to collect travel insurance money. This is where the film gets truly interesting—this is when we meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez).
Rodriguez plays perhaps the most “normal” character in Kajillionaire. We’re introduced to her as a talkative and bright physician’s assistant who aids Robert and Theresa with their flight anxiety and eventually assists with the Dynes’ various cons, elevating them from smaller jobs to more lucrative scams. Rodriguez’s past projects (Jane the Virgin, Deepwater Horizon) have tended to veer more on the mainstream side of the film industry, but her turn as Melanie proves her ability to play truly complex and human characters. In one particular (and surprisingly hysterical) scene during which Melanie and the Dynes are both robbing a lonely old man as he dies two rooms over and also pretending to be his family to ease his loneliness, Rodriguez gives a performance so intoxicating and realistic you feel as though you have waded directly into the character’s consciousness.
This, however, is the mark of every Miranda July project. From her acclaimed 2007 collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, to her star-making directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, July consistently crafts both intensely intimate characters and original situations. Heavily inspired by the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s, she depicts the female psyche as wildly complex, genderless, and at certain times even mythical, giving special attention to the concept of motherhood and often exploring the underbelly of life. Old Dolio Dyne is no exception.
Wood portrays Dyne as a closed-off, odd, detached, and, well, quirky young person with deeply rooted emotional issues resulting from her unconventional upbringing. It’s not until Melanie and Old Dolio begin to interact with each other that we see Old Dolio start to heal from and explain her childhood trauma, starting with the revelation at a parenting class that Old Dolio was named after an ailing lottery winner in the hopes he would put her in his will. This sort of whimsical backstory is typical of a July project, but that doesn’t make it any less poignant for the audience.
Is Kajillionaire a pink-filled Los Angeles dreamscape of quirk? Yes. Does it pack the same emotional punch of July’s other work? Also yes. Kajillionaire is July’s reinvention of her own quirkiness, and though she’s still the same offbeat artist she was 10 years ago, she has adapted appropriately. She may not be like other girls, but Miranda July knows how to make a movie.
Featured image courtesy of Focus Features