Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Kajillionaire

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Miranda July

Miranda July is a filmmaker known for her fascinating approach to storytelling. Her 2005 film “Me and You and Everyone We Know” presented a unique vision of interpersonal relationships and the way the world works. Her 2011 follow-up, “The Future,” was more intimate but just as peculiar, less satisfying overall due to its failure to match the wonder of her debut. Now, nine years later, she’s back, this time only behind the camera and not also in front of it, with a theoretically more normative fable about value and what it means to be rich, which, unsurprisingly, is both incredibly alluring and deeply bizarre.

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) lives with her parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) in a small building whose walls leak foam on a nightly basis. They spend all their time planning cons and trying to trade what they have for anything better, splitting everything three ways. When they win a trip to New York, Old Dolio devises a scheme to file a missing bag claim to collect a travel insurance payout so that they can make their much-delayed rent. What she doesn’t account for is a talkative stranger, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), who Robert eagerly invites to join them in the con, making Old Dolio question her role in the family.

It’s hard to imagine that these three people could walk through life as they do and not arouse a considerable degree of suspicion, particularly because they never change their clothes and, in Old Dolio’s case, she wears many layers under an impossibly baggy jumpsuit so that she can have a costume change ready at a moment’s notice for her latest deception. At times, they seem to delight so much in what it is they’re doing, while at others they slip out of character and reveal their base natures when haggling for a fair reward proves unsuccessful. Melanie is all too trusting, but she also seems to get some joy from feeling useful and getting to be a part of the game. These characters, at least to this degree, couldn’t actually exist and be real, but that’s just the nature of the wild world presented in this film.

Wood, who has been seen most recently as a calm, polished host on “Westworld,” transforms incredibly into the dry, lanky Old Dolio, whose vast knowledge of random things dwarfs her very poor social skills. Jenkins and Winger are superb as always, and Rodriguez proves to be a great fit as well, shedding her clean “Jane the Virgin” image to play someone with less clear motivations and less pure intentions. This film, while immensely watchable, doesn’t manage to be overly satisfying since it’s impossible to distinguish between reality and imagination. That may be the point here, but the magic isn’t entirely effective.


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