' ' Cinema Romantico: A Non-Review Of Don Jon

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Non-Review Of Don Jon

When I entered the theater Sunday afternoon for a showing of "Don Jon" there were only two other people - a couple and, thus, sitting together - in the whole auditorium. I took a seat in the middle of the fourth row from the screen because, I confess, I'm someone who enjoys being much closer to the screen than back from it. Naturally, right before the previews commenced, another couple entered, sat directly behind me despite there being an entire swath of seats from which to choose, and talked throughout the movie.

Our world is full of talk. Talk radio is an epidemic. I enter the kitchen at work and the TV is always on, loud and proud, someone talking at amplified volumes. There is small talk and serious talk and shop talk. People, as established, can't even not talk for ninety minutes during a movie. When 2013 is all said and done there will be two talks remembered forever and neither of them will be President Obama and President Rouhani talking - it will be Wendy Davis and Ted Cruz filibustering. Orations have given way to Obstructions, words for the sake of words, talking all night and saying nothing.

"Don Jon", the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and stars), is full of talkers - loud talkers, shit talkers, people talking to get what they want, people talking to tell lies to get what they need. There is a recurring Catholic Priest in the confessional (who we never see) who by film's end must have ordered our boy Don Jon to say at least six hundred Hail Mary's and four hundred and fifty Our Fathers. And Don Jon says them, sure, all of them, but he doesn't, you know, SAY them. And I'm reasonably certain the Priest we never see is not really HEARING what Don Jon is confessing before absolving - he's just waiting for his turn to talk.

Don Jon and his friends talk, mainly about whether this girl is a "seven" or that girl is an "eight" and what makes a girl the hallowed "dime". Don Jon's gum-smacking gal Barbara (Scarlett Johannson) talks, issuing orders masquerading as sexual banter. Don Jon's Dad (Tony Danza) and Mom (Glenne Headly) talk - well, argue - ceaselessly, just like any good old fashioned Italian stereotype. Don Jon even talks to himself when he's alone - in voiceover - in a vain effort to convince himself he doesn't have a problem (he's a porn addict, as if "Shame" had been directed by Norman Jewison). But do you know who doesn't talk?

Monica (Brie Larson). All the way to the right.
Don Jon's sister. Monica. She doesn't talk. Like, at all.

Monica is played by Brie Larson and stars as just another spot of satire in a satirical sorta film. Monica is attached at the hand to her smartphone. Literally. In every single scene we see Monica - at the family dinner table, at church, at the family dinner table, at church, at the family dinner table, etc. - she is holding her smartphone and looking at her smartphone and scrolling through her smartphone. No one seems surprised or bothered by it. Not even the church parishioners. We gather this must be standard behavior for Monica. Also, did I mention she doesn't talk?

This is Levitt the writer poking fun at our teenage culture - hell our entire culture - and our obsession with our smartphones and how in the moments when we are not actually talking we are looking at these teeny screens in front of our faces, so engrossed that I have actually seen pregnant women on the train have to clear their throats to get people hovering over their phones to look up to give up their seat to get right back to hovering over their phones. It's a brilliant gag to have Monica in all these scenes but never acknowledging anyone or anything aside from her phone. But hey, did I mention that she DOESN'T TALK?

It's a modern-day silent-era performance. Her facial expressions are entirely non-existent. She lives in a bubble of smartphone apps, I suppose, and those probably lost their amusement a long time ago. So many people in such a role would be trying to, as they say, make his/her reel, but not Larson. No one engrossed with their smartphone betrays much emotion, they just......look. So Larson just......looks. She hears, and you can tell she hears what goes on around her because she occasionally reacts but whenever she reacts it comes across as an annoyance that she was disturbed from her Facebook or her Twitter or her Instagram or her Candy Crush and a non-verbal desire that clearly indicates "Christ, can't you people just shut up for five seconds?"

But...there's a moment. It's a moment when Don Jon and Barbara have just split up and so he's talking to his parents, explaining himself, and his Dad is talking, because how could his son let such a foxy lady go, and his Mom is talking, because how can he continue to deny her the grandchildren she so desperately wants, and all that talking gets out of the way and then....

Monica looks at her brother. Just looks at him. There's hardly a change in her demeanor from any other time but there is a change. The pointed eyes, yes, but more than that she's looking at him. It's the only time in the whole film she has actually looked at someone. Levitt knows. She knows. We know.

Well, eventually Monica talks. She has to. That's how these things work. But when she does inevitably open her mouth, the content of her utterance is not necessarily stunning – it’s what I’d been thinking, and perhaps what you’d been thinking too. Rather its profundity is a direct correlation of its simplicity.

The phrase Talk Is Cheap is typically deployed to denote that words must be accompanied by action. Perhaps an even more literal reading of the phrase, however, might be that this modern world of incessant and banal blathering is what has rendered it cheap. Air needs to be filled, after all, and so the words come at us in such sustained waves that we have fewer and fewer moments without noise and less and less time to formulate and get lost in our own thoughts.

Monica is merely pointing out the obvious, it's just that no one else could hear it until then over all the braying.


Alex Withrow said...

I just love this, you mad genius, you. The whole time I watched this film, I was so impressed by Larson's performance. Because really... it takes a lot of stones to play a role like that in a fairly decent sized movie today.

I love the spin you put on JGL's reason for constantly having Larson's head planted in her phone. It's so spot on. Makes me appreciate the movie even more.

Also, sorry a couple sat directly behind you in an empty theater. I hate that shit. I usually get up and pretend like I have to go to the bathroom, then come back and sit somewhere else. But really... what kind of people sit DIRECTLY behind (or in front of) someone in an empty theater? Blows my mind.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, I probably should have moved. But I was in my pretty much my favorite possible spot for a movie. So it goes. They weren't loud-talkers or anything, but there was definitely constantly whispering. At a certain point, I suppose, you sort of start to tune it out but it's still annoying and unnecessary.

Thanks for the comment, man! This is one of those pieces I get the biggest kicks out of writing.

Derek Armstrong said...

Loved this post. I don't usually like to wade into reviews (even non-reviews) of movies I haven't seen, but I decided to place myself in your capable hands, and as usual I was not disappointed. Going to check right now to see when DJ opens in Australia.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, man. That's one of the nice things about writing a non-review I suppose. Her character is so much on the periphery it really doesn't spoil any of the main ingredients.

Still, she was (obviously) my #1 takeaway.