The Scarlett Johansson Project — #9

One of the things that I really like about, you know, not setting any rules as to how I go about these actor profile things is that chronology is never an issue. I can jump and skip around in an actor’s filmography as if time never mattered (this post’s belated publishing is proof that it indeed doesn’t here on Thomas J). Picking and choosing roles more or less at random has been liberating. 

The time has finally come for a healthy discussion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut (and thus far his only feature directing credit). Back in 2013 the amiable and ever-busy native Angeleno broke the ice with a surprisingly clear-eyed look at the sacrifices and benefits of relationships, taking a modern, sex-positive approach to the subject and the nuances thereof — the corrosive effects of pornography and pop culture on one’s expectations of real sex; the difference between genuine, emotional connection and the thrill of infatuation. 

Despite the film taking its title from the fictional and life-long womanizer Don Juan, a name used to pin down the general attitude of men devoted to the Lothario lifestyle, Levitt’s direction balances baser instincts with more complex feelings in a way that satisfies far more than it feels manipulative and cheesy. The cast is small but fantastic and, predictably, does great work with well-written characters.

Scarlett Johannson as Barbara Sugarman in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon

Role Type: Supporting

Premise: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love. (IMDb)

Character Background: Don Jon is a film with a strong personality. With it being set in a part of the country that also boasts a strong (some may say abrasive) personality, it’s no surprise the characters are going to let you know what’s on their mind, usually by yelling. Barbara Sugarman is a good example, a strong cuppa who isn’t afraid of dropping a few f-bombs in a sentence for proper emphasis. And really everything about her is emphatic: girl talks loud, walks fast and chews gum for the work-out. 

Barbara is a pretty shallow individual. She’s all about the artifice, how something appears rather than how it feels. One of the things that needs to be made clear is that Barbara is no villain, despite the character arc eventually pushing the viewer’s sympathies far more to Jon’s side. Not for nothing, she is very up-front about some of her principles. Don’t lie and everything will be all good. When Jon violates that simple rule, we understand her anger. What’s less reasonable is her expectation that relationships aren’t about work, it’s about comfort and pampering. Fine if you’re a Royal but in reality, at street-level, it takes two to make an effort and it would seem Barbara is putting in the wrong effort, or at least diverting her resources to the wrong cause.

Ultimately she is walking on a different side of the film’s thematic avenue. Unable to accept a man who prefers doing his own cleaning and taking care of his space, believing talking house chores is “unsexy,” Barbara fetishizes her knight in shining armor, attempts to contrive it in the same way Jon’s carefully curated collection of pornos has given him a far too specific code for stimulation. 

What she brings to the movie: Temptation. Sex appeal is largely the point of the character, though Barbara’s perfectly manicured image is also symptomatic of something rotten. Scarlett Johansson is of course the quintessential blonde bombshell but as this feature has gone to show she’s a talented actor capable of conveying depth across a diverse range of roles. So it’s almost anti-Johansson to take on a role that’s the very definition of the cliché of beauty being only skin deep. 

As a native New Yorker she also makes the thick Jersey accent easier to buy. It’s still affected, but is nowhere near as odd to hear as it is from her California-born co-star. 

In her own words: “I had romantic ideas when I was a kid. I don’t know, I always liked people who didn’t like me. I always wanted what I couldn’t have, and I’m still in the process of figuring out why that is. It is something about our own ego, I think, it strokes our ego, the idea of the chase, the challenge. When you actually think about it realistically, would you ever want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?”

Key Scene: An interesting moment, this one. Is this invasion of privacy? Or is that beside the point? Healthy debate time! Sound off in the comments. 

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work):

***/*****


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: www.imdb.com; interview excerpt courtesy of ScreenSlam 

The Marvelous Brie Larson — #2

Welcome back to another edition of my latest Actor Profile, The Marvelous Brie Larson, a monthly series revolving around the silver screen performances of one of my favorite actresses. (If you are a newcomer to this series, here is a link to the original post).

Also this, from the first installment:

The idea behind this feature is to bring attention to a specific performer and their skillsets and to see how they contribute to a story. This probably goes without saying, but I will be focusing on how they POSITIVELY affect an experience. It would seem counterintuitive to feature roles in which they weren’t very good, were ill-fit or the movie overall was just plain bad. Of course, there is always that rare occasion where a great performance can single-handedly improve a fundamentally poor movie, so I won’t rule out that possibility.

In this month’s installment I am going in the opposite direction by taking a look at a far more limited role. Indeed, this is a few steps away from being a cameo appearance, but there is no denying it has an impact on the main character and the direction the film goes in. First-time writer/director Joseph Gordon Levitt on what she brought to his movie: “Brie created a whole character who makes the audience laugh, but who also feels like a real human being. And she did it without saying anything. That takes a truly skilled actress.”

Brie Larson as Monica Martello in Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don Jon

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Comedy/relationship drama/romance

Premise: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends and church develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Character Background: Monica is the younger sister of Jon Jr., a ladykiller played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Though she may be seen more often than not glued to her phone, she’s not exactly oblivious to the goings-on around her, except maybe the worst of her parents’ arguments or the score of whatever football game is on. When Jon breaks the news of his break-up with Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) — a girl he hoped and his parents hoped on top of that hope would actually be The One — we learn just how attentive to detail Monica really is.

It’s a small scene but a big gesture. On a broadly entertaining level it’s one of those “whoa, they actually talk!” moments — but her breaking silence isn’t played as a gimmick or just for laughs. It has a timeliness to it that suggests Monica just hasn’t had anything to contribute to the routinely hysterical family conversation. Most of the time she just wants to stay out of the squabbling and nagging but now that she sees a real rift dividing in the family — Jon and his father (Tony Danza) especially locking horns over the importance of family and long-term commitment — she does what any good sibling does and comes to her brother’s side, offering him her perspective on what she viewed as a one-sided, high-maintenance relationship. As we see later, when Jon finds more emotional intimacy with an older woman (Julianne Moore), it’s a bit of sisterly advice he clearly takes to heart.

Marvel at this Scene:

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work):


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.fancarpet.com; http://www.imdb.com

Don Jon

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Release: Friday, September 27, 2013 

[Theater]

Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes for broke here, starring in his big screen directorial and writing debut. He’s Jon Martello, a confident, handsome twenty-something born and raised in New Jersey, first introduced as a club regular, ladykiller and porn addict. Or, well . . . as someone who prefers porn to having sex with someone.

Indeed, Don Jon winds up becoming an unusually revealing and provocative experience. It’s also refreshingly honest. I can’t recall the last screening I attended in which there was quite so much nervous laughter and so many outbursts of it, moments in which you get the “haha, oh yeah that’s totally me” kinds of laughs intermixed with genuine bouts of uncontrollable hysteria. This is what’s known as the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Effect.

All I can say for that is, thank goodness someone approved of JGL’s idea to write, direct and star in his own film. As it turns out, not only is his debut a thoroughly entertaining one, it manages to balance its overt sex appeal with a healthy dosage of decency and maturity. Don Jon scrubs the Paganism from the subject of talking hot and heavy sex. When Jon meets the woman of his dreams at a club, his life might well be heading in a new direction. Set on a collision course with finding true love, will she be the one to make his life better, and thus that of his mother as well? (Are grandchildren so much to ask for??)

First off, JGL does a great job of not really caring what a certain portion of his fanbase may or may not think of his creative choices, as there is many a debasing moment with him shirtless, hunched over and alone by his laptop, his naked despair (or despairing nakedness, whichever) occupying the center of the screen. There’s a good bit of narration as well, most of which serve as explanations as to why Jon prefers watching sex to actually engaging in it. In short, JGL puts it all out there, and the film benefits.

At the core of the very-nearly-sappy story is a man who’s so good at being one-dimensional he hasn’t ever stopped to think twice about settling down and starting a family, though that’s surely what his parents — the great Tony Danza, and a hilarious Glenne Headly — want and expect from him. They have no idea about his relationship with his computer. Jon doesn’t much care; life is working for him perfectly well as is. But when he comes across Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), the young man’s suddenly finding himself having to rearrange his daily life . . . and maybe even his priorities?

The skeletal framework of the film is hard to ignore — arguably the only major crack in its composure. Splicing scenes of ‘the Don’ at the gym, doing his “thing” at home, going to confession, and combing the clubs, all in equal measure, the routine becomes somewhat predictable, and likely will be even more obvious upon repeat viewings. That said, it works just fine for a debut film from someone as young as Levitt. It’s an effective, albeit conspicuous, story-building technique that prompts laughs perhaps more often than the sight of ridiculous clips from various pornos.

The most fascinating aspect of Don Jon has to be the personal growth, the progress of maturity as the story unfolds. While attending classes (at the request of Barbara, in order for him to actually “make something of himself”), Jon comes across an older woman (Julianne Moore) in the same class. His first encounter with her is more than awkward and seems dismissive yet, what JGL does next (from a directorial standpoint) is one of the few developments in his film that’s unpredictable, and quite frankly, one which gives the film a great deal of credibility — if only also slightly threatening mawkishness.

Jon’s situation is really just a contemporary version of a man in denial; in 17th Century Spain, Don Juan roamed the Spanish hills, conquering women, slaying men, and later boasting about it. The bigger the challenge, the bigger reward, in his eyes. Eventually, the great misogynist would find his soul depraved, and denied salvation due to the unconscionable nature of his sins. The amiable native Angeleno cleverly adapted the basic qualities of the fictitious lothario for a modern audience. Then he managed to attract the attention of some of the most beautiful people working in the industry today. The result is a very satisfying mixture that is far more poignant than might first be assumed.

Don Jon is as successful as one might expect from a virgin director. It would seem the young actor has a bright future ahead of him, now in multiple aspects of the art form. He’s got a few areas to develop on as a director, but seeing as though this is his starting point, it should be fascinating to see what might come next from one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars.

don-jon-1

3-5Recommendation:  Don Jon finds JGL at his most exposed — literally and figuratively, of course. I think the trailers do their job quite well with this one. And, if you like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then you’re already there, aren’t you?        

Rated: R (for risqué)

Running Time: 90 mins.  

Quoted: “They give awards for porn, too. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com