The art and the artiste in Miranda July
If you ask somebody familiar with Miranda July as to what they think of her; they are going to fall into two camps – that she is brilliant or that she is too “quirky.” Since 1996, Miranda July has donned many hats – actor, artist, author, filmmaker, photographer, screenwriter, and singer. She has put on art installations, organized art exhibits, and stood for causes that she believes in. She has made a number of short films and three feature-length films. She has also written a number of short stories and authored four books. In addition, she has directed and appeared in music videos, and recorded albums and EPs. Back in 2014, she even developed a messaging service app called ‘Somebody.’
I have watched the three films that she has directed. Namely: ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ (2005), ‘The Future’ (2011), and ‘Kajillionaire’ (2020). In addition to that, I have also read ‘The First Bad Man’ (Scribner, 2015), which had all the flair and flourish of her first two feature films, whilst a tiger stares back at me from the cover of an unread copy of ‘It Chooses You’ (McSweeney’s, 2011). Her cosy signature stories from her first book, ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’ (Scribner, 2007) are also intriguing enough. Her most recent book makes space for something that looks like a tear on the cover, and around it is the writing, “This is not the first hole my finger has been in, nor will it be the last.” It is simply called ‘Miranda July’ (Prestel, 2020).
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With that, let’s look at her most recent film, ‘Kajillionaire.’ The usual critique of July being “quirky” or “kitschy” appears endearing to me because, I suppose, I fall in the first camp. Evan Rachel Wood playing Old Dolio lives in an office space with her mother Debra Winger (as Theresa Dyne), and father Richard Jenkins (as Robert Dyne). This office space is attached to a soap factory and they pay $500 for it every month. At 4 every evening, pink foam from the factory pours through the walls. The three of them collect it using buckets and bins! If there was ever a shot that announced a Miranda July film, this qualifies, fully!
They are thieves or scammers; words too harsh for this excellent cast and poor family of three. ‘Kajillionaire,’ all the same, not only did not feel the same without July acting in it but also felt like Gina Rodriguez (playing Melanie Whitacre and outperforming the rest of them) was somehow typecast as a Latina savior angel in it – a lapse in judgment that is not typical of July.
Old Dolio has issues with trust, intimacy, attachment, and touch. Rodriguez solves them all rather magically with money and hugs! If she had a wand, which is not altogether impossible in the July universe, she would have flicked it and carried on. July does make efforts to make Melanie a rounded character, but her presence in the film is uncalled for and she forces herself into this storyline for reasons that fall flat.
In comparison, ‘The Future’ stars Hamish Linklater and is narrated by a stray cat called Paw-Paw. Linklater plays Jason, and July plays Sophie. The two are a couple in their mid-30s. They challenge their relationship in interesting ways, i.e ask radical questions and open it up. For they have hit a rut; they do the same things and act the same way. July is here and the film works because of her relationship with Linklater, and the cat narrator! There is some cosmic interference, too, which finds itself returning its magic as a saving grace in ‘Kajillionaire.’ ‘The Future’ is not overtly philosophical or interested in making a song and dance about it all. It only makes Sophie takes dance lessons with the intention of breaking the internet.
However, the best of Miranda July offerings has to be the first: ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know.’ It stars July as Christine and John Hawkes as Richard. It is an ensemble film, revolving around many characters and many plots; all quite difficult, but absolutely realistic, engaging, and lovely. Richard sells shoes and Christine drives a cab before they develop a cute relationship. Meanwhile, Robby, a six-year-old, and his brother, Peter, 14, have joined an online chat, and are sexting away with somebody. Heather and Rebecca, teenage girls, develop a playful relationship with Andrew, who is older, and ask if they can perform oral sex on him.
The film plays with adolescence and growing up. It also plays with the concepts of technology and monitoring, love and relationships, and in 2005 when there were no apps it is a feat to achieve! Correspondingly, they may not be me, and you, and everyone we know 16 years ago. My “hi sweetie” in a cybercafé is nowhere compared to what these American children and adults with access, privilege, and lawns, front and back, were up to. But “the human condition” was similar. July gets that right: we crave attention and we respond accordingly. Moreover, young or old, we reciprocate in ways that we are, or aren’t totally aware of as children and adults.
July is a discerning filmmaker and writer, whose vibe is easy to get and tune into. This gives her performance a quality that is quite unique. You can appreciate her even if she is in a supporting role in Josephine Decker’s first film, ‘Madeline’s Madeline’ (2018). In the same fashion, July’s body of work is always questioning: be it the host of characters in ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know,’ or the complex open relationship in ‘The Future,’ or the romance between Old Dolio and Melanie in ‘Kajillionaire.’ If you have not tried her, try ‘The Future’ if you are in the mood for something odd, uplifting, and ruminating; go for ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ if you want to accept parts of yourself instead of saying “that is not me!”