Jacob Gehman (sirtheory)Lancaster, PA
Jacob's Recent Reviews
Standout performances from Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore help make Don Jon a bigger film than the sum of its parts. Not that the parts are too shabby; Gordon-Levitt's directorial style, while a bit rough around the edges, does a good job of leaving a mark.
Where Don Jon runs aground is with a fairly predictable plot, that also has the problem of being pretty typical.
As a romantic-sort of film, Don Jon is kind of bad. Except Don Jon isn't so much a romantic-sort of film--regardless of what the plot arc suggests; it is a personal journey.
And that journey takes the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character from a me-first, narcissist sex-drive, porn addicted bland-sort-of-guy into a somewhat decent-seeming human.
It's not an untypical movie concept--tons of movies do it. Don Jon doesn't even handle it all that gracefully. a good 60% of the movie is the main character's vapid relationship with someone as vapid as he is. And a few sweet words is all that it takes to turn him?
Totally unrealistic, conceptually annoying, yet there is something that provides a really nice counterbalance: the aforementioned Julianne Moore.
She throws herself into her role with earnest; even the cheesiest lines imaginable sound convincing coming from her. Take the scene where she reveals that she cries because her son and husband died 14 months ago. I have seen maaaany similar scenes over the years, and most of them make me roll my eyes and say, "How cliche". It's such a bloody shorthand trick to get us to "emotionally sympathize" with a character. Yet here it feels different. Here it comes off like Moore is genuinely in that position. Something about it feels authentic to a point that I didn't even think about how cliche and cheesy that moment was.
You can say a similar think about Johansson, except from the opposite end of the spectrum. I rarely think of Johansson as an airhead-type actress. Seeing her perform such a character, and making me believe so much in that character, is pretty revealing.
Chan Wook Park, in my mind, had no need to go out and make an English-language film. His foreign (to my American eyes) films are a thing of beauty--visually striking, engaging plots, characters that grab us.
I was hoping that Stoker would deliver the same, but alas.Stoker nails the "visually striking," but everything else is pretty weak.
The problem is that, at least with the Park films I've seen in the past (his so-called "Revenge" trilogy), the violence is extreme but purposeful.Here it seems to exist for the sake of violence.
I can't even argue that the violence helps shape the characters. I mean, it does... but the violence seems like the least effective vehicle for communicating whatever brand of insanity is going on here. It's all very nebulous and feels like Park is pointing fingers saying, "Look! Senseless violence! Insanity! Get it?"
But there's nothing here to be got. Which isn't to say we don't cheer when the high school bully punches his hand into a pencil. Or that we don't feel that "Whoa, what!?" when we realize what it means when the kid is making the snow angel in the sand. But these moments neither make nor save the movie, since such moments need to speak to the larger goal of the film.
And somehow "He's crazy!" and "She's crazy!" feels like a remarkably hollow goal to work toward, rendering such attempts moot.
Nicole Kidman feels largely wasted here. She just feels out of place. The details picked up by the camera clashes with her whole aesthetic. Mia Wasikowska feels a bit more appropriate, although even she fails to make a major splash, partly because she looks 24 years old, making it's hard to believe she's in high school, 18, and the entire character of India. I'll hand it to her that she almost overcomes that, but "almost" doesn't a better decision make.
I can't tell if Matthew Goode's character is the best or the worst of them all. He can be pegged pretty quickly as "a shady character", And not too long after that, "this guy is insane". However, as an audience we get to that conclusion way too quickly. He's too insane, and that makes the people around him diminish because they aren't picking up on it.
Which all makes Stoker sound like an outrageously horrible movie. Yet yet I still have this rated two-point-five stars higher than "outrageously horrible" (aka, zero). Most of that is Park's unmatched visual aesthetic. Some of it I just can't quite put my finger on.