2020, R, 106 min. Directed by Miranda July. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Mark Ivanir.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 25, 2020
The complex nature of human relationships has been a central current in the works of Miranda July: specifically, her interest in mapping trajectories of often lonely and broken people stumbling around a world they don’t understand, and a world that definitely does not understand them. And while there is no shortage in the “oddballs find each other” subgenre, July imbues her stories with compassion and grace. Once again, she invites us into her wonderfully peculiar worldview with her new feature, her first since 2011’s underrated The Future.
“Most people want to be kajillionaires,” scoffs Robert (Jenkins), the paterfamilias of the Dyne family, as he rails against the bourgeois sheep of modern society. He and his wife Theresa (Winger) have chosen a different path, scraping by hand-to-mouth working petty scams and grifts of the filching-P.O.-boxes and entering-multiple-names-in-internet-giveaways variety. They have also created a daughter (Wood) whose life is conscripted to aid in these con game endeavors. In the eyes of her parents, Old Dolio is not seen as their daughter, but as a third partner, with everything pragmatically split three ways between them. They live in an unused L.A. office space, barren cubicles and all, rented from the owner of a Bubble factory next door. Like clockwork every day (three times on Wednesday), a leak causes foam to ooze down the walls, requiring them to endlessly contain it from overflowing. Months overdue on rent, and winning a trip to New York City from one of their scams, Old Dolio hatches a lost luggage insurance scam to pay the debt. On the plane ride back from their brief (a few hours) jaunt to the Big Apple, Robert meets Melanie (Rodriguez), a boisterous free spirit, who he convinces to help with the scam. Melanie has an idea for a scheme which involves duping the elderly clientele of the eyeglass shop she works at out of antiques around their home. Melanie’s presence in the Dyne family’s life upsets an already tenuous ecosystem.
With Old Dolio, July and Wood have created an indelible character: a gruff-speaking wildling with no concept of how to deal with her “tender feelings,” but whose behavioral conditioning makes her keenly aware that there is something missing. Lacking any experience with love or affection, she is a tightly wound coil, and Melanie’s deprogramming lays bare the realization that the biggest scam has been the one perpetrated by her parents on her. The way July is able to juggle both the slyly cruel circumstances and the genuinely heartfelt transformation makes this her best work yet: a fractured mirror fable broken into perfect pieces.