Kajillionaire Review (BFI London Film Festival 2020)

American Hustle meets Napoleon Dynamite

Old Dolio (an unrecognisable Evan Rachel Wood) is born of grifters. Her parents named her after a lottery-winning homeless man with the hope of putting her in line to inherit his newly-found fortune, just one of many elaborate attempted scams foisted upon her throughout her life. Together, the family seem to operate on their own plane of existence, their lives centred on moving from one con to the next, and the place they call home an office building owned by a bubble company, complete with leaking walls; an aesthetically pleasing mess, much like the rest of the heavily-stylised version of Los Angeles they occupy.

Gina Rodriguez as Melanie and Evan Rachel Wood as Old Dolio.

As reliant as Old Dolio’s parents are on their daughter, equally so is Kajillionaire on Evan Rachel Wood. She swiftly marks herself as the film’s key selling point with her measured turn as the stifled offspring of two emotionally void parents. It’s her longing for affection and parental bonding that gives the film heart in amongst its overabundance of quirk. The arrival of potential new scam target turned partner in crime Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) shakes up the dynamic of the film, though not necessarily for the better after a solid start. To the extent that Melanie’s presence is able to spur change in Old Dolio, triggering both her coming of independence and sexual awakening (meaning she’s the only character to show any semblance of development in the film), she is effective. And yet I also found myself near-constantly questioning her motivation, the decisions she makes bordering on inexplicable, making her feel like more of a plot device than a character in her own right.

Ultimately the amount which you enjoy Kajillionaire is likely to directly correlate to how on board you are with the offbeat shtick it relies so heavily upon. For me though, its one-note characters are simply unable to match the charm of the world they inhabit.

Rating (out of 5):

***

Kajillionaire was part of the programme at the BFI London Film Festival 2020.

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