The Netflix Instant Reviews: Don Juan DeMarco

13 Jun

There are a lot of people I blame for my potentially fatal case of early onset nihilistic romanticism: Lucy Maude Montgomery, Bill Cosby, my mom, Charlotte Brontë, Alex Haley, Anne Frank, Johnny Depp. So when I flipped through Netflix Instant View and saw Don Juan DeMarco, a movie I remember as HIGHLY sigh-inducing for me as an 11-year-old, I figured it would be good to eat a burrito to, get mad at, weep with, whatever. A reasonable way to pass the time, staring at Johnny Depp when he was still into just light pageantry and camp, when you could still see his perfectly-shaped nineties cheek bones and his eyes hadn’t deadened into cold dark dollar signs.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would love it or hate, and then this happened:

I suddenly became very embarrassed for my eleven-year-old self, with her braces, glasses, short-overalls, unshaved legs. I had a very graphic understanding of sex (my mom delivered babies; we had a lot of books with diagrams and the whole penis in vagina thing was never a big secret), but I cannot imagine what I thought about that part, the kissing the fingers thing. That shit was PG-13? DID I SEE THIS MOVIE WITH MY PARENTS? I took a deep breath, let my blush subside and thought, dang, maybe this is about to get super hot.

Aaaaannnd…it didn’t. The high point, in terms of actual steamy-ness, is that restaurant scene. The rest of the romance is completely ridiculous and kind of hilarious: Don Juan as a sixteen (by which they mean thirty, right? No sixteen-year-old in the history of the world has pecs like that) year-old sort of raping-ish his tutor. Okay, I know it isn’t rape rape but it is a little odd that she keeps saying: “I will not consent, I will not consent” until the voice-over Marlon Brando, playing the wheezing therapist, says, “But somehow she consented.” Johnny replies, “She did.”

The poetic loss of Don Juan’s virginity isn’t the only scene that feels a little bit like a sex crime for comedy. The nineties was a simpler time, I know, but when Don Juan gets sold into sex slavery, for a sultana, I can’t help but wonder if making light of sexual violence mixed with a little racism is really what America needed back then. I mean, there could have been another set-up. It doesn’t really seem that hilarious to me when the sultana rapes our hero at knifepoint.

Then there is the consensual sex, which is pretty weak and only seems to happen between Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway (as the wheezy therapist’s beautiful wife). It’s hard to believe that Brando could even walk up the stairs at this point in his life, let alone bone his lady (I think that’s what you call it when you are very old and have been married your whole life). There is a strange moment with the two of them in bed shooting popcorn into the air and catching it in their mouths that seems less fun and sexy and more dangerous. How’s she going to flip him over if he needs the Heimlich? That dude’s a beast.

Ultimately, I think this movie was supposed to be pro-(nineties) woman. There is a scene near the end when Brando says to Dunaway, “I need to know all about you…I want to know what your hopes and your dreams are that got lost along the way when I was thinking about myself.” Dunaway laughs and cries and when he asks what’s so funny she says, “Thought you’d never ask.”

It makes you want to laugh and cry with her until you think about it for two seconds and then you want to curl up in a ball and die of depression instead.

So, yes, Don Juan DeMarco has maybe a little too much rape for a light-hearted family jaunt about being a true (schizophrenic) romantic and the sex is boring and the message is flawed. But the cheek bones stand the test of time and when Johnny is covered in a veil, pretending to be a lady so the sultan doesn’t realize he is pleasuring the sultana nightly, I couldn’t help but think, that dude is way prettier than most girls I know. If you’re a little bit drunk, I’d watch it. If your sober, I’d probably go with Benny and Joon.

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