Thursday, September 24, 2020

Bob's Cinema Diary: 9/25/20 -- "Kajillionaire" and "The Artist's Wife'


     Kajillionaire is like almost every other movie about con artists except for two things: the monetary stakes are pitifully low and the aspiring felons are strikingly weird. 
     How low? Well, these con artists steal from post-office boxes, dodge landlords, and try their best to avoid being caught on security cameras. If they had a motto, it might be, "The family that cons together has no choice but to stay together."
      And how weird are they?  The Dyne family consists of Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins), who are the parents of a daughter named Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). Mom and dad basically exploit their daughter by having her carry out their larcenous schemes.
     Mom tends to be quiet but not entirely without menace. Dad makes claims at knowledgeability and the family's daughter is so obviously depressed and withdrawn that her long stringy hair looks as if it might be weeping. They’re all nervous wrecks.
     Now, I said the stakes were small -- but I was talking only about money. Emotionally, the stakes are plenty high, revolving around a daughter who never has gotten what she needs from her conniving parents.
     I don't know of actors other than Winger, Jenkins and Wood who could have pulled off director Miranda July's foray into the world of Los Angeles down-and-outers, people who live in an apartment adjoining a bubble factory.
     The movie takes a new direction when Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) shows up. Self-assured and as ethically dubious as the Dynes, Melanie is Old Dolio's polar opposite. (And, yes, the movie offers an explanation of how Old Dolio got her name. Let's just say the name alone speaks to unspeakably bad parenting.)
   Every movie about con artists needs a good final twist and Kajillionare has one, but July (Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future) infuses genuine pathos into the lives of characters who live in a world in which everything's slightly askew. 
     And weirdness aside, you may even find yourself feeling something for Old Dolio, a young woman who can’t con anyone out of what she really needs: Love and acceptance.

The Artist's Wife

     Lena Olin joins Bruce Dern in a story triggered by an aging artist's slide into dementia. 
      In part, The Artist's Wife paints a portrait of a cantankerous, egotistical painter who abuses his students and takes the long-standing devotions of his wife for granted. 
      An abstract painter of some repute, Dern's Richard Smythson lives comfortably in the Hamptons with Olin’s Claire. Richard may be long past the starving artist phase, but he's definitely losing his grip. 
     As the story unfolds, Claire increasingly takes over the movie’s center: Claire -- as Richard says -- creates everything about the couple's life, except the art. She’s the engine that keeps their lives running. 
      Claire, of course, paid a price for her marital choice: Living in Richard's shadow meant sacrificing her own career as painter. We're told she had promise.
     Fearing the moment when Richard entirely fades, Claire tries to reconcile Richard with his estranged adult daughter (Juliet Rylance) from an earlier marriage. Richard knows little about the life of his grown gay daughter who has a six-year-old son (Ravi Cabot-Conyers). 
     Although The Artist's Wife creates interest as a piece of adult-oriented entertainment, the movie doesn't click. Claire's brief interest in a younger man (Avan Jogia) seems forced, dementia has been handled better elsewhere and the arc that Claire's story follows proves dismayingly predictable.
     In sum: a quietly disappointing effort.

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