Certain movies make you think a new way. Something like Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth aggressively owns that idea outright — it turns language itself against its viewers, reorganizing our definitions as its actual core concept. But there are less in-your-face examples — think of the Final Destination films, for example. Nobody talks about them being atmosphere-shufflers but they are — you walk out of a Final Destination movie fundamentally looking at the world, for a time, in an entirely different light. For 90 minutes those goofy slashers re-train your brain to sense the Rube-Goldberg-ian connections all around you, a violent overlay across everything, diagramming which exact thing would need to fall over onto which exact other thing which would then result domino-like in your head getting gratuitously chopped off. It’s very much a happening!
The films of Miranda July all too operate on their own planes of existence, and you either make it there, on her terms, or your don’t. I know a lotta folks who don’t. But visiting Miranda-July-Land is such a spectacular vacation for me personally — getting outside of my own exhausting way of seeing the world and figuring out the wily ways she’s making her weirdo connections, one seemingly insane thought stretching out its serpentine leg to another, while you’re just trying to find the pillows across the living-room lava field floor to make it over there before you burn on up. What a refreshing holiday from one’s self, they prove — I like to visit!
Kajillionaire, her new movie out this weekend, for the first time (after her former two efforts Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future, each utterly perfect in their ways) doesn’t star July herself in the leading role — it seems as if July wanted a little vacation from herself this time; lord knows she’s earned it. Not that we’re not still very much invited into Miranda-July-Land ourselves — everything happening in Kajillionaire is still very much riding on the cotton candy clouds over apple green poison rivers that we’ve come to know and love as Her Special Place in the Cinematic Universe. The MJU, if you will. Now she’s just diaspora — a mood, an atmosphere, without her big blue eyes to blaze the way. She’s trusting us we can make our way through her cryptic mazes now, without her immediate gaze to guide us.
I’ll admit I’ve never been the world’s biggest Evan Rachel Wood fan and I was a little wary going into Kajillionaire of that fact, but July clearly saw in the actress a kinship, and that kinship burns bright and hard enough that I can say, with ease, this is the best Wood’s ever been by my estimation. She plays Old Dolio (and yes Miranda July did get that character name from a friend who dreamed it as part of a list of possible cat names, why do you ask?), the baritone-voiced daughter of two extraordinary spazzes (played with stone-cold on-the-spectrum flair by Debra f’ing Winger and Richard f’ing Jenkins) who go through every day conning every person place and thing they come across in order to keep existing. They seem like if they stop grifting they might stop breathing? Poof up in pink smoke? It’s a good tale for 2020, obviously — we know from families of grifters in 2020. We’re all experts now.
What gets lost among the twee hyperbole that’s long attached itself to July’s World is how she doesn’t just refuse to sand down the edges of the flumes and slaloms she tosses us down — she purposefully builds in danger zones, patches of spikes and jagged surfaces where our knees and hearts and souls get skinned surfing down ’em. July World can at times very much be like that infamous water-park in New Jersey where everybody left with half their skin hanging off. For all her people named after Dream Cats she ain’t cutesy, her cartoons have fangs and will hump your leg til they leave a mark, and Kajillionaire is brutal in its dissection, vivisection, of its oddities numerous foibles. These people hurt each other, ruthlessly, and are too broken to fit into any standard molds. They don’t stand right. Their pieces are taped, tattered, gunked up real good.
Man, I relate. Who doesn’t feel like a hand-glob of good intentions, pennies and tacks and newspaper headlines sticking out the sides? Other kids plunked down pretty pictures in Kindergarten class while I was a play-doh homicide scene, teachers screaming for the exits.
But like with July’s other two joints she too knows that Improbable Love might still swoop in anyway, someday, and love back the dangerous ill-fitting glob that you are — it’s possible that there’s a person, weird in their own ways, who likes the way you stick to the palm of their hand. Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) might look like a regular person on her outsides — she can walk into any building without doing a kabuki dance to get there, for one — but she, like those of us sitting in the audience watching a Miranda July movie, gets the need for the dance. She speaks the language, and once you can do that, well, you can go anywhere, baby.
Focus Features will release Kajillionaire on Friday, September 25, 2020.