Miranda July on Materialism, Motherhood, and Track Suits in Her New Film, Kajillionaire
Miranda July’s Kajillionaire is a strange and slippery film. Nominally, it’s the story of a family of untethered grifters, liberated from the quotidian responsibilities of 9-to-5 jobs and consumerist urges. They eschew lifestyle trappings—fancy clothes, restaurant dinners, gift certificates for massages—and they live in a bleak, abandoned office space attached to a soap factory, their cubicles-cum-bedrooms periodically invaded by a seeping pink foam.
But this family is in some ways an exaggerated reflection of the forces they shun: They may lack traditional occupations, but their money-making antics (acrobatic thefts from mailboxes, elaborate deceptions involving lonely senior citizens) involve a level of hustle that belies true apathy toward money-making. When they step into a hot tub store, flush with cash from a successful scam, they are sold on the fantasy of a backyard oasis and purchase one for their office bathroom.
The Dyne family—Richard Jenkins plays the father, Debra Winger the mother, and Evan Rachel Wood the daughter, named Old Dolio—are both appealing and disturbing. They are not so much a portrait of an alternate values system, as the embodiment of a set of questions about what we attribute value to in the first place. Do you need all your stuff? Most likely you do not. But do you want to live a monotonous existence, denying yourself not only indulgences, but also stability and baseline comfort? You probably do not want that either. The trio describes the way they live as a kind of resistance to the sugar-addicted, “fakey false people,” but the bleakness of their lives, which shun attachment of any kind—emotional, material, even familial—holds little charm.
Charm enters the film in the charismatic figure of Melanie, played by a sunny, radiant Gina Rodriguez, a loner in a much more ebullient register, who makes a living hawking eyeglasses at the mall. While the Dynes’ life is stripped of all but the most utilitarian items, Melanie’s is stuffed with the kind of tchotchkes that point to a late-night addiction to the Home Shopping Network and a credit-card-happy mother. Melanie finds the Dynes thrilling, their quasi-legal activities holding the potential for adventure; the Dynes, sensing an accomplice they can exploit for their own ends, allow her to tag along. Just who is using whom, however, becomes murky as the film progresses and layers its interrogations of value and attachment. “They’re my parents,” Old Dolio says defensively to Melanie at one point. “In what sense?” Melanie pointedly asks in return.
In the questions Kajillionaire poses about the way we organize our lives—what we prioritize and what we seek—July has made a film that feels particularly resonant at a moment in which many of us have detached from whatever it is we formerly considered reality. Vogue spoke with her about making the film, released in theaters this week, and on demand in October.