The Dynes, Robert (Richard Jenkins), Theresa (Debra Winger) and daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), are a crime family struggling to survive. They live in a low-rent abandoned office next to a bubble factory, where pink bubbles overflow through the vents into their space. Clip artists, they eke out a living by pulling low level scams that are often more work than they’re worth. Even their daughter’s name is part of a con job. They named her after a homeless man who won the lottery in the long shot hope that he would notice and write her into his will.
When Old Dolio wins a trip to New York they concoct a luggage and travel insurance swindle that could finally put them in the bigtime… or at least allow them to pay their back rent and avoid eviction.
Like all their stings, things don’t go as planned but they do meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an outgoing young woman with the makings of a good grifter. Despite Old Dolio’s misgivings about bringing an outsider into their tightly knit group, the Dynes and Melanie set about to separate easy marks from their money.
What begins as an unconventional crime story soon turns into Old Dolio’s story of self-discovery as she comes to realize that her upbringing has left her unprepared for the world outside the petty criminality that has been her life.
Jenkins, Winger and Rodriguez bring something unique to each of their characters. Jenkins and Winger exude desperation as the rumpled, bumbling small timers, while Rodriguez is all charm and warmth as their protégée but it is Wood who steals the show.
Wood transforms completely to play Old Dolio. With waist-length straw hair obscuring her face she drops her voice an octave or two and adopts the physicality of someone who learned how to walk from reading books. It’s a wonderfully nuanced comedic character but there’s more to her than awkward behaviour and a silly name. Wood keeps Old Dolio’s emotions under wraps for much of the film, but there’s an apparent inner life that becomes more and more apparent as she begins to wake up and make a connection with someone whose last name isn’t Dyne for the first time in her life.
Intentionally stilted and oddball, Wood makes Old Dolio the beating heart of “Kajillionaire,” a story that derives its emotional stability from a character whose parents were never emotional or stable with her.