As much as I love movies and music, there is one thing filmmakers do that frustrates me, that doesn’t bother me as much with bands. My favorite bands (The Doors, The Beatles) weren’t making music after I was born, so it’s easy to say you love them, when their entire body of work is great. When a new band would pop up that I loved (The Black Keys, Liz Phair, Cake, The Black Crowes, The White Stripes, Billie Eilish, etc), they’d usually end up doing a record I didn’t care for at some point. But it seemed a bit more forgiving. There might be one or two songs on the CD that were still good, or you could still enjoy their concerts. Yet when a filmmaker I love does a new movie that’s awful — it’s unforgivable to me. That’s because it doesn’t make sense.
After Tarantino released the movies Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown (and had written True Romance), I thought this guy will be the best writer/director that ever lived. Well, every movie since has been a mixed bag that were all very disappointing to me. And the reason I’m less forgiving about that with filmmakers is because — they watch the dailies. They should be able to see if this is working or not. They’re storytellers, they should be able to tell if it’s interesting or not, or what flaws can be taken away. With music, well….Liz Phair wanted to try a rap album. It sucked. Billie Eilish had some pop songs that weren’t as intriguing as her early stuff. You can see how they get in the studio and at the time, they think it will be a fun departure from what they already did (and had success with). Yet I don’t understand how Tarantino can think The Hateful Eight or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, needed to be as long as they were, and they were poorly written.
And that brings me to Miranda July. I felt the same way about her as Howard Stern felt about M. Night Shyamalan after his first two movies (the brilliant films The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable). He said he loved them both so much, he wanted Shyamalan to have armed guards like the Secret Service around him at all times, so nothing ever happens and he can keep making brilliant films forever. Well, we saw what happened with his movies. And it worries me that July may not be the type of filmmaker I had hoped she would be.
Her first two movies — Me And You And Everyone We Know, and The Future — both were incredible. I put Me and You on my list of the best movies of the 21st Century (my list is here: https://fox5sandiego.com/entertainment/at-the-movies-blog/100-best-movies-of-the-21st-century-from-one-critic-in-san-diego/ ). Both those movies are quirky, warm, funny, and every second of them is enjoyable. She then married the terrific filmmaker Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners), she had a baby, and continued to do the performance art pieces she’s always been involved in. She also wrote books and worked on some charity things. So I’ve waited over 10 years for her next film, and was thrilled at the cast she assembled for it, as well as the premise. There’s nothing more fun than watching con men and schemers on screen.
The problem is that these characters aren’t just quirky, they’re mean-spirited. The scenarios aren’t all that humorous. And just having a bunch of oddballs, doesn’t give you a pass. We liked the characters and jokes in Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, and so many other indie films, because of the script. Not just because the main characters were quirky. This cast has an unrecognizable Debra Winger with hair over her face like Cousin It, and Rachel Evan Wood mumbling and giving a performance like she’s “acting.” Also with hair draped over her face.The only two characters that seemed realistic were Richard Jenkins as the father of this bizarre family, and Gina Rodriguez as the new friend, yet her motivations never seem to make sense in the least. All of this brought back the memory of the amazing film The Family Fang (Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman). Go find that brilliant little film, about a bizarre family that weren’t the best parents for their kids.
Wood plays a character named Old Dolio (just typing that name out, reminded me of how much I hated this film I watched weeks ago). She starts to realize her parents are flawed, after going to a class for expectant parents (she went because she got $20 from someone who was forced to attend by the court).
The first “heist” we see is Dolio reaching around their post office box, to steal other packages out of other boxes. All the other things they get involved in are so nickel-and-dime, you wonder how they can even survive.
They rent office space cheaply, because the walls are attached to the owner’s (Mark Ivanir) bubble factory, which frequently makes the walls fill with pink, bubbly liquid. That was a funny visual, that was overplayed. The owner trying to collect rent…was one of many frustrating situations that could have been written in a more interesting fashion.
Once Melanie (Rodriguez) enters the picture, upon meeting them on an airplane, you hope things will liven up. She’s rather excitable, but…you never really understand why she would get involved in any of this. Even when you start to think it’s because she has a crush on Old Dolio, that doesn’t make much sense, either. You could perhaps see her wanting to save Dolio, but falling in love with her?
Melanie suggests they steal from the homes of elderly, as she works for an optometrist and has to sometimes deliver glasses to the old folks. She usually doesn’t make those deliveries because “It’s gross” (a funny line). And you think this might make for some interesting scenarios. And one of those was mildly amusing. An old guy on his deathbed wants these interlopers to talk and act like a family, because he misses those sounds. Now those are the kind of sweet moments I rely on from July. She needed more of those here.
Since you realize how horrible the parents are, not just for the stealing they do, but how they’ve raised their child — it made me think of the criminally underseen Brigsby Bear (Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, and star/writer and Scripps Ranch resident Kyle Mooney). Yet in that, we don’t hate the father for what he did to his son. In this movie, we hate the father. Especially when the father tries to get into a three-way in a Jacuzzi with Melanie. Those types of awkward seductions are usually hysterical on screen, but this one doesn’t work on any conceivable level.
There’s a side story about these grifters being obsessed with earthquakes and…well, with three different earthquakes we see them experience…perhaps that’s warranted. My wife brought up a good question at one point, saying, “There’s no back story to explain to us why this family is living off the grid.”
Watching Richard Jenkins freak out on an airplane, reminded me of the fun of watching Charles Grodin on an airplane in Midnight Run. But overall, none of these scams were interesting or made much sense. It reminded me of the terrific Parasite last year, where it made perfect sense why that poor family would want to infiltrate a rich family to make money off them.
I watched Kajillionaire on the same day I found out Tyler Perry had officially become a billionaire. Perhaps that made it a worse experience, too.
I won’t worry if it’s another 10 years before Miranda July’s next film. I still have female filmmaker Brit Marling, whose first few movies have been amazing. It’s been seven years since her last picture, so I’ll be looking forward to that. Hopefully it’s not another four years.1 star out of 5, from the movie that was well above Tenet, James Bond, and Top Gun 2, as the one I was most enthusiastic about this year.