Through films like Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future, director and artist Miranda July has created a signature visual and storytelling style that sets her apart. No one can make a better Miranda July movie than July herself. Whether it’s the off-beat characters or the imaginative situations and the awkward conversations they find themselves in, July gives audiences a different perspective on familiar subjects, taking them along for a ride full of surprises and musings.
July’s latest film, Kajillionaire, is yet another creative adventure into her imagination. The movie follows a family of oddball scammers played by Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, and Debra Winger who live scraping by on low-stakes schemes. On one of their more ambitious plots, they pick up a newcomer played by Gina Rodriguez who has a few ideas of her own and disrupts the trio’s usual rhythms, prompting some uncomfortable questions about love and family.
Ahead of Kajillionaire’s release, July spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about five of her go-to movies from her childhood and beyond that have had an influence on her work. The movie will open in theaters on Friday, September 25, 2020.
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Sometimes, I like to mention Somewhere in Time because it’s definitely not a good movie in terms of quality, but it had such an influence on me at such a young age. It’s about time travel, starring Christopher Reeves. I think, you know, as a little kid, the idea of entering other dimensions or time travel, it’s almost like that’s a stand-in for being an artist. Like, you’re not yet old enough to conceive of the life you might have as an artist, but time travel implies the magical thing you might want to do through your work. I didn’t end up becoming a time traveler, but I did end up making worlds.
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When I was a little bit older, I saw A Room with a View, and that was the movie that made me fall in love with love –– the idea of romance. I wasn’t yet having romances of my own, but I think I just spent a whole summer kind of walking around in a dreamy trance hoping that I could have hair like Helena Bonham Carter.
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More recently, [I’ve enjoyed] Maren Ade’s movie, Toni Erdmann. She’s someone I met in Berlin when I was there, I guess when I was there finishing The Future, because I did my post in Berlin. I knew her and I remember her visiting me actually in L.A. and telling me about this movie and about this father. I always keep in mind how — it’s not that she was insecure; she’s a very competent filmmaker — but when she described the movie, it was years from being done, and it then ended up being such a knockout. I mean really one of the best I’ve ever seen. That’s sort of encouraging me to remember, “Oh yeah, every movie before it’s made seemed kind of unwise or unlikely.”
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Another one from my childhood, or like from my teen years, is Sex, Lies and Videotape. It’s funny — teenage girls are not exactly the target audience there, but I think one of the things I really like that drew me in was the movies within the movies, which are women talking about sex directly to the camera. I think even though these are not independent feminist art projects, I saw them in that way. Within the narrative of the movie, they’re tools for this man to get off. It was only a few years later that I would start this underground distribution network for women filmmakers called Joanie for Jackie, and in some ways I think those videos would have been good movies for Joanie for Jackie. Of course, they’re not actually made by women, but I guess it sort of proves that if you’re desperate enough for female filmmaking, you can find it even within that Steven Soderbergh movie.
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Agnès Varda’s movie Le Petit Amour, or Kung Fu Master! as it’s called in the U.S., was a movie that I saw before I started writing my first feature Me and You and Everyone We Know. It centers on this really unlikely romance between a 14-year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman, and in a very French way that I don’t think she actually got away with even in France, but I remember taking it on as a challenge: How unlikely a couple could you make? It led me down the path of being interested in what was romance or sexuality from a little child’s point of view. Was there a way, with tenderness, to safely explore that because I’m sort of always interested in the personhood of children and their autonomy. So that led to a storyline in Me and You and Everyone We Know.
Monica Castillo for Rotten Tomatoes: The world of Kajillionaire is so distinctive. How did you come up with the idea of a family of misfit outsiders who live in a place devoid of touch and emotional connection?
Miranda July: Well, this is the first movie I’ve made as both a mother and a daughter. I think I was thinking a lot about birth and rebirth and parenting and reparenting. It’s a very heightened world, but I think I was hoping to describe how families are kind of cult-like and how the children have to ultimately betray the cult of the family, rebel against it, and in a way how heartbreaking that is. It’s extra painful for Old Dolio [Evan Rachel Wood’s character] because it’s all she knows, nothing else. That’s where I was coming from.
Thumbnail image: Cinecom International courtesy Everett Collection, ©Sony Pictures Classics, Outlaw Productions, ©Expanded Entertainment courtesy Everett Collection