Don Juan Demarco

1995, Movie, PG-13, 97 mins

Review

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The directing debut of novelist Jeremy Leven, DON JUAN DEMARCO is a light romantic comedy of the Adorable-Crazy-Person-Cures-Caregivers-of-their-Harmful-Sanity variety.

A loony youth (Johnny Depp) has reinvented himself as Byron's Don Juan. He dresses like Zorro, speaks with a Ricky Ricardo accent and comports himself in the manner of Errol Flynn. He has vowed to kill himself because though he has been with more than a thousand women, the one he truly loves has rejected him. Psychiatrist Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando)--who's about to retire from practice--persuades the faux Don Juan not to throw himself from a Hollywood billboard by playing along with his delusions. Mickler's by-the-book boss, Dr. Showalter (Bob Dishy), gives Mickler ten days to present the boy for a disposition hearing, but Mickler becomes enchanted with DeMarco's "beautiful world" and fights to keep him off the medication Showalter is anxious to dispense.

Through extended flashbacks, DeMarco recounts his invented life. Raised in a Mexican village, DeMarco has a blissful affair with the young wife of wicked Don Alphonso. Alphonso kills DeMarco's father, and he retaliates in kind. Forced to flee, DeMarco is sold into slavery by pirates, ends up in a harem of 1500 women and learns from them the secrets of love. He later ends up on the Island of Eros, where he finds his one true love, Dona Ana (Geraldine Pailhas). When he tells her of his passionate past, she leaves him and he is inconsolable.

DeMarco's story is alternately punctured by his grandmother--who gives a much more prosaic account of his origins--and ambiguously confirmed by his mother, Dona Inez (Rachel Ticotin). Now a nun, Dona Inez evades many of Mickler's questions, citing her vows. DeMarco's romantic idealism rubs off on Mickler, revitalizing his marriage to Marilyn (Faye Dunaway), and Mickler coaches DeMarco for his hearing. When the fateful day arrives, DeMarco recites the official story: He was born in Phoenix, became obsessed with a magazine model (Talisa Soto) after his father's death, and knows he is not Don Juan. DeMarco is released, and accompanies the Micklers on their second honeymoon to the Island of Eros, where Dona Ana awaits him.

It's as pointless to point out that the original Don Juan was not merely a seducer of women but a cynical, amoral reprobate as it is to observe that delusional schizophrenics are rarely cured in a week. DON JUAN DEMARCO is aggressively fluffy, a celebration of dreamy romanticism, built on a feel-good fantasy of Don Juan and the idealistic notion that lunatics are people too good for this ugly, brutally pragmatic world.

Depp's considerable personal charm is the movie's greatest asset. The story is painfully insubstantial, and Dunaway is sadly wasted in the shallow, predictable role of a woman whose barren life blossoms under her husband's renewed attention. But Brando is the film's weakest element: bloated and pale, his performance is as dry, limp, and lifeless as his ghastly toupee.

To Leven's credit, the fantasy sequences are beautifully filmed (by Ralph Bode), the narration amusingly overblown, and the pacing crisp. (Nudity, sexual situations, profanity.) leave a comment

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