There are certain filmmakers whose upcoming work fills me anticipation. Then there’s filmmakers like Noah Baumbach. He has a large body of work as a writer, director and producer with films such as Frances Ha, Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale. On the one hand, I admire how he features strong women as characters in his film. I want to like his films. His work features fraught family relationships and people on the verge of emotional breakdowns. It feels like watching a car crash. For someone like me, who feels great empathy for the characters on the screen, it can feel like BEING in a car crash.
Marriage Story is getting great critical acclaim for the performances of Scarlett Johanssan and Adam Driver. Both the trailers and the opening scenes of the film use a wonderful story technique of introducing the characters describing their partners good qualities. Opening the film with the warm glow of the character’s love before dropping the audience into the divorce already in progeess gives the film a strong start. What begins as an agreement for an amicable separation, becomes a strident battle of lawyers and devastating emotional drama.
Laura Dern, played with calculation and phony warmth, is the barracuda divorce lawyer going for the jugular. Most of the characters rang false to me. Johansson’s mother in her bad haircut rewards her son for defecating and spending time with his father, and displays a childlike gesture to beg for hugs. Every character trait is exaggerated. She’s shown cutting everyone’s hair and yet, their hair seems the same. I found myself disliking all of the characters, even the little boy who seems to be manipulating his parents with requests for toys.
Yes, Adam Driver is great in his emotional moments and portrayal of a clueless theatrical “genius”. Did we need to sit through an entire song to understand his loss? I think that uncomfortable moments that some people find amusing, I find painful. The film felt too long, too caustic and too unrealistic.
Drinks With Films rating: 2 strong bourbons to blunt the emotional pain (out of 5)
The song, Let’s Talk About Sex, keeps playing through my mind. This is post number one on my Sex in Cinema series.
Jon and Barbara like to watch
Don Jon was originally titled Don Jon’s Addiction. Joseph Gordon-Levitt choose to eliminate the addiction reference from the title because the film is addressing more than one man’s addiction to pornography. “Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy“. In this brilliant directoral debut, Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the script and stars, compares Jon’s addiction to online pornography to Barbara (Scarlett Johansson)’s love of romantic films. They both like to watch and both live in a fantasy world.
There is an abundance of porn clips, though nothing graphic, as Jon is looking at pornography on his laptop. But the more objectional clips are actually in the opening montage presenting women in tv shows and movies as objects: descending stairs in tiny gold skirts carrying briefcases, wearing skimpy outfits to sell products and one graphic misstep: a woman with an arrow through her breast from a horror film. The men in Don Jon rate the women in the bar on a scale of 1 to 10 but in an interesting twist, one of the Jon’s friends actually prefers women that aren’t perfect in their rating system. Barbara, on the other hand, prefers her men to be like the ones in the romantic films (hilariously spoofed within the film) — ready to give up their lives for her.
The reason this film is such a revelation? It takes the conventions of a raunchy, romantic comedy and turns those conventions into a mirror to reflect back what’s wrong with men and women’s expectations and fantasies. Julianne Moore’s character acts as a lightning rod for Jon and suddenly a film that seems to be about sex and the glorification and objectification of the female body is revealed to be a sweet story of intimacy and healing. But please, don’t tell anyone. Let’s let everyone think Don Jon is all about how hot Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson are…
If anyone learns that this film is actually a lesson about true intimacy, there might be less young couples in the theater and they’re the ones that really need this lesson!
Rating: 4 cocktails from that happening club down the street