Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

SCREENING ROOM; Rebels without a Clue: Another Look at Our Screen Heroes from the '50S

Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

SCREENING ROOM; Rebels without a Clue: Another Look at Our Screen Heroes from the '50S

Article excerpt

IN DON JUAN DEMARCO, WRITER, DIRECTOR AND FORMER psychotherapist Jeremy Leven juxtaposes Marlon Brando, The Wild One from the first generation of adolescent rebellion, and Johnny Depp, Generation X's contemporary answer to the passion of alienated youth. The result is a lovely little film, lushly romantic and funny but disquieting.

Don Juan DeMarco is in the genre of Harvey, Equus, King of Hearts and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, films based on society's endemic suspicion that sanity is boring and lunatics have all the fun. In such films, psychotherapists are burned out from replacing magical delusions with dreary reality. The therapist loses a battle of wills with an intractable psychotic, thus permitting the patient to retain his necessary madness and the therapist to regain his own.

As Don Juan DeMarco, Johnny Depp is the lunatic who is supposed to cure the overly sane, bigger-than-life Marlon Brando Fat chance! Brando could eat Depp for breakfast.

Depp is a sweet-looking young man, with an unformed and unmarked face and body. He has made a series of off-beat films, most of them lovable and some (Edward Sdssorhands, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Ed Wood) brilliant and high on my list of recent favorites. All rely on Depp's blandly agreeable innocence, as he is overwhelmed by powerful mother figures like manic Avon Lady Dianne Wiest and 600-pound hungry mama Darlene Gates; by aggressive women like finger-sucking Juliette Lewis, Bette Midlette Sarah Jessica Parker, and cradle-robbing Mary Steenbergen, all of whom demand that he be the man of their dreams; and by helpless hangers-on like retarded nosepicker and pole-climber Leonardo DiCaprio, and dying, heroin-addicted vampire Bella Lugosi (played gloriously by Martin Landau). In the outrageously quirky Ed Wood, the unshakably optimistic Depp plays the worst film director in history, probably the only one to direct his films in drag, and certainly the only one too passive to tell his actors what to do when the cameras start rolling he cheerfully accepted whatever happened on the set and was always satisfied with the first take.

In all his films, Depp plays a Generation X everyman: too politically correct to impose on anyone, too self-sacrificing for any passion of his own, too defeated to fight about it. You cannot imagine a sweaty Johnny Depp in a torn T-shirt standing at the bottom of the stairs calling hungrily for "Stella!"

In Don Juan DeMarco, Depp plays the world's greatest lover, who must now kill himself because the only woman he wants to die for is, of course, the only woman who won't have him. He tells a story of loving an older married woman when he was 16, of precipitating a family tragedy, of spending a few years in a harem satisfying the needs of 1,500 sex-starved women. The burden of his sexual duties is shown, as is the earnestness with which he sacrifices himself for the pleasure of women. His story inspires his weary old psychiatrist, Brando, to go home and pay attention to his glowing but patient wife Faye Dunaway, who has waited 30 years for him to notice her and ask her about herself.

Much of the magic of the movie is captured in the smile Brando puts on Dunaway's face. Dunaway, for decades our most grotesquely mannered movie star, has been doing a Norma (Sunset Boulevard) Desmond send-up in most of her films since Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 Sadly, her voice didn't please Andrew Lloyd Webber, and she will not be going on stage in the role. But now she's been set free to play normal women. I do not recall ever before seeing a satisfied, relaxed Faye Dunaway. Her tightly stretched and anachronistically youthful face is startling, but in the flowing chiffon, garden-party florals and jaunty straw hats, her giddily overheated responsiveness to the man mountain that was Brando is worth the price of admission.

Although the 400-pound, 70-year-old Brando, with a strange blond wig and thick makeup, can hardly move anymore, he managed to stir up more passion with a kernel of popcorn than his young patient can do with a Zorro costume and a Spanish accent. …

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