Sundance 2020

Miranda July’s Kajillionaire

Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, and Evan Rachel Wood in Miranda July’s Kajillionaire (2020)

It’s been fifteen years since novelist and multidisciplinary artist Miranda July brought her debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to Sundance, where it won a special jury prize. A few months later, she took the film to Cannes, where it won the Critics’ Week grand prize, the Caméra d'Or for best first feature, the Prix de la jeunesse (a now-discontinued prize awarded to young directors), and a young critics award. Our release will be out in April, and so, too, will a book that publishing house Prestel is calling a “mid-career retrospective.”

July’s second feature, The Future (2011), also premiered at Sundance and then screened in competition at the Berlinale. Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri rewatched it recently and “was struck by how much tougher it was than I remembered . . . All her movies are about our search for experiences or people to hold the vast awkward darkness at bay—our longing for a happy place. When seen in that light, the work seems more essential than ever.” Kajillionaire, the long-awaited third feature, “might be her best film yet.”

With Me and You and The Future, July “neatly cleaved” viewers into opposing camps, “those who find her inspired, audacious, and gleefully original, and those who find her trying, mannered, and insufferably pretentious (both factions get a mandatory single-use ‘quirky’ for free),” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody recently tweeted a reminder that he placed The Future at the top of his list of the best films of 2011: “I had it ahead of The Tree of Life and I still would.” Salt Lake City Weekly film critic Scott Renshaw, on the other hand, harbors such “antipathy” for July’s work that he declined to schedule the new film for himself—and for his other contributing writers as well. For Kiang, a “card-carrying, app-subscribing, novel-reading” admirer, Kajillionaire is “a challenge: it’s a film that requires you to indulge its patience-testing pace, monotonous dialogue delivery and frustrating anti-characterization for a very long time before you earn the right to unwrap the borderline transcendent gift of its absolutely beautiful ending.”

Evan Rachel Wood plays Old Dolio, a young woman raised by her dour, somewhat anxiety-ridden parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) to work as an accomplice to their petty cons and scams. The family dynamic, such as it is, is upended when a sprightly newcomer (Gina Rodriguez) appears and seems to try to worm her way into the family. “Very few viewers will guess precisely where July is taking us,” predicts Screen’s Tim Grierson. For Jordan Raup at the Film Stage, “the steady, surreal, and sweet flashes of brilliance in this one-of-a-kind story are enough to sustain interest during some of the more tedious passages.”

Talking to Deadline’s Joe Utichi, July recalls the story of Kajillionaire rolling out in her mind in a pretty steady flow, and “to be honest, I wrote the entire first draft, and I would come home and say, ‘I don’t know, this is pretty goofy.’” But she “just kept going” and “I just felt so sad at the end. I was like, Oh, I think this is about stuff that I never would have chosen to write about. Just the ache of this basic betrayal that’s built into the whole deal with parents and children.” And in the end, “for it to be deeply personal, it can’t be autobiographical.”

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