Miranda July on Kajillionaire, the Failures of Parenting, and Creating in Quarantine

“I usually don’t wake up with a fully formed idea for a film,” says Miranda July. But in the case of Kajillionaire, the last movie she wrote and directed, that’s exactly what happened. “The characters appeared in my mind and I caught them,” she adds. “It was like pulling a rope. I kept spinning it as it happened.

In her polymath career in July, she produced fiction, non-fiction, a sculpture garden and music, but she is best known for her films; Criterion recently released an edition of their first feature film, Me and you and everyone we know. Kajillionaire, her third, focuses on a pair of low-level crooks who raised their daughter to help her fight the tense obedience of a trained animal. Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play the antisocial and neurotic parents determined to rip off just enough to get by, while Evan Rachel Wood transforms into Old Dolio (a friend of July’s came up with the name), who has extremely long hair. , a deep voice. , and was brought up almost entirely without tenderness or touching. The lives of the three are turned upside down when they meet a young woman much more comfortable in the world than them, played by Gina Rodriguez. After July’s friend Lena Dunham suggested the role to her, “I became obsessed with Gina,” said July, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, filmmaker Mike Mills, and their 8-year-old child, Hopper. “I wanted her story to be America’s sweetheart. This is how I see her.

gina rodriguez left stars like "Melanie" and evan rachel wood stars as "old dolio dyne" in Kajillionaire by director miranda july, a focus features release credit matt kennedy focus features
Gina Rodriguez and Evan Rachel Wood in Kajillionaire.

Matt Kennedy / Focus Characteristics

Prior to the July Wood casting, she feared the actress was no longer a “Disney songbird” (Wood had a role in Frozen 2), but once they met, “She gestured to me not to worry.” I am the child who is most connected to Edward Scissorhands. Wood also showed July to her the voice she had before she started playing, which is the one she used to play Old Dolio. “She had a vocal coach who trained her voice,” July says. “She said, ‘People don’t usually want me to sound like that.'”

KajillionaireThe emphasis on anxiety, isolation and connection makes him particularly well suited for the present moment. He has at his heart a thought-provoking and hopeful idea that people have capacities they seldom surpass – “We can only be what we are,” Old says. Dolio – but that even when someone we love has proven profoundly, traumatically inadequately, healing is possible. Some passages are akin to a sensory video work of art, such as a wild dance sequence that Old Dolio performs or the pink moss that periodically cascades down the wall of a warehouse where the family lives. But it’s these surreal elements that allow the film to present a version of the world that is just twisted enough in the odd sense that we can see things with fresh eyes.

As someone who explores alienation and loneliness in your job, did you feel better equipped than most to manage your midlife?

How to get there? Mike and I are very independent and it kind of forced us together in a way that must be vaguely terrifying to us otherwise we would have done it before. I just had, for the first time in six months, a few days alone, and I entered this very intense, somewhat ecstatic state. Not like I’m being creative every second, but I could stay inside, whether that meant messy eating or masturbating in some weird part of the house. I kind of dug myself into an essential solitude which for me is so fundamental that it is generative. It’s like touching the base. But I think everyone has a relationship with loneliness and connection. I haven’t spoken to a person who hasn’t found [quarantine] be a really deep metaphor for their deal.

How has your experience of family, whether it’s the one you grew up in or the one you have formed now, influenced the film?

I’m not sure I would have made the movie if I hadn’t been so guilty as a parent. I’m doing my best, but I can already see that it’s a very strange world that I describe to my child every day just by living. I’m almost cheating on them. There’s no way the world they live in [once they grow up] will be like that. When Hopper was a baby, people wondered: Are you so in love with them? And I would say, “Yeah, but I’ve only known them for seven months.” I have known everyone in my life for longer. I never wanted to presume or infringe on their personality.

How was the shoot?

I think any of the actors will find a nice way to say that I have a very demanding vision. I smile when I read interviews with them. I’m like, it’s so nice of you to say it that way. Me and Sebastian Wintero, the director of photography, also made the decision to shoot one of the highlights of the film in one shot, which I’ve always considered a macho move. What are you trying to prove? But suddenly I realized [the actors] You just had to walk through it, that would literally be a relief, and relief is what this scene is. These are the kind of women who, when you push them to the limit, you suddenly realize that this is where they are happiest.

director miranda july at left and actor evan rachel wood at right on the set of kajillionaire, un focus features release credit matt kennedy focus features

Matt Kennedy / Focus Characteristics

You recently said New York magazine that no matter what you do, some people still perceive your work as a twee. What do you think it is?

I think there is sexism there. This makes [my work] safe. But I am really surprised. For years, I hid that I had done sex work because I didn’t want to be a bad example for a young woman. I remember being so nervous when something in the New Yorker was going to allude to it. I thought, Ok that’s it, the cat is out of the bag, I drop a bomb on my reputation. And literally nothing happened. There could be no other motivation at this point than to do what I wanted to do for myself. It’s somewhere between liberation and despair.

How do you experience the world these days – do you feel hopeful?

At the start of the pandemic, I had a basic assumption that things couldn’t go so badly. This is the kind of thinking that has proven wrong today, both environmentally and in terms of authoritarianism. Bad things certainly happen. This kind of magical thinking is much more difficult to do now.

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