Saturday, October 5, 2013

Double Feature: 'Don Jon' and 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Comedies are a funny thing. No, I'm not just saying that to be cute. Well, not entirely. What I mean is that they're not all that easy to categorize. One thing that makes someone laugh will be inherently different from another, and so forth. There are comedies about sex, comedies about politics, school, fantasy, reality... this list goes on. While most folk seem to agree on what makes an excellent dramatic performance, a comedic one divides its audience on a wide spectrum, whether done by Jim Carey, Will Ferrell or Anna Faris. For every human being, there are dozens of diverging ideas on what makes things funny, and that's why there's such a wide variety of subjects out there just ripe for parody.And you can be sure that many comedies for adults are CERTAINLY not for kids (although some aimed towards kids can be surprisingly insightful for parents).

Don Jon is one of those "adults only" kind of films. Written and directed by star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the story follows likeable douchebag (because statistically speaking, there has to be ONE out there) Jon Martello, who objectifies everything in his life, especially women. Every week he takes home a different girl from the club, until he meets who he believes to be the one, played by Scarlett Johansson. As they settle into an everyday relationship together, there's just one small problem: Jon can't get through his day without watching porn, which he sees as "better than sex". Naturally, that comes into conflict with his relationship to Barbara, and he soon must settle the differences between the two.
Seriously, that's the 3'rd Rock From the Sun kid
Despite being hampered by the usual mistakes that plague first-time directors (especially when those directors are actors to begin with), there's much more done right in this raunchy comedy. Gordon-Levitt proves that this is his element, as we suspected this genre was two years ago in the under-seen 50/50. But even besides his impressive transformation, most impressive is his cast, between the lovely Johansson - who is a better actress than many give her credit - to the always-strong Julianne Moore, the strong presence of Brie Larson (who only has one line but at times is the best part of the movie), and a surprisingly solid turn by Tony Danza. Yes, I said it: Danza does a good job. Don Jon is also unexpectedly insightful; while on the surface, the movie keeps the audience laughing with witty dialogue and perfectly-conceived editing and scoring, the director doesn't skip a beat in presenting his evidence on why an otherwise-decent guy like Jon treats women like things instead of people. According to Don Jon, it's a combination of public advertising (beautiful woman used to hawk hamburgers? That's Hot) to how he was raised. When Danza (as his father) recounts how he met Jon's mother (Glenne Headly), he recalls that the first time he saw her, the thought through his head was "That's mine." Now, Jon's dad is not a bad guy. As far as we know, he hasn't cheated on his wife, and despite some obnoxious elements to his character he's not a BAD guy. But his mental imagery of his wife as a thing to be possessed is an idea that has no shortage of examples all across the planet. Gordon-Levitt also tackles the other end of the spectrum - albeit more lightly - in dismissing romantic movies and entertainment as fake and damaging, essentially comparing Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey to the porn that men watch.
One big happy family.
As a director, Gordon-Levitt does make some questionable decisions (by playing a "guido", was he TRYING to draw in the Jersey Shore crowd? Or did he want to give mainstream audiences an easily-visible reason to dislike his character?), but for the most part Don Jon is raucously funny, surprisingly sweet and a treat for fans of 50/50 or similar works. Is it for everyone? God no, as the subject matter alone will definitely turn off many potential viewers. But as an honest, soul-searching comedy, Don Jon will probably come to a rest in my pantheon of 2013's best movies.

Meanwhile, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 specifically targets younger audiences this fall. With most of the year's potential competition either already released or not much of a threat, this sequel to the film based on the beloved children's book takes a whole new spin on the story, where the heroes of the first movie return to their home of Swallow Falls, where Flint Lockwood's (Bill Hader) invention, the food-creating "FLDSMDFR" has malfunctioned, turning the once-peaceful town into a "Lost World" of wild food-imals. Tasked with shutting his machine down for good so that the creatures cannot get off the island and assault the mainland, it's a race against time as Tim and his team journey across the island and attempt to take back their homes.

Cloudy 2 distinguishes itself nicely from the original with a vastly different premise, and the steady direction of Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn feels seamless with the preceding duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who ran off to make 21 Jump Street and the upcoming Lego Movie), and the story itself takes off mere moments after the end of the first movie. The jokes - even if they are all food puns - are crisp, vibrant and ought to appeal to children of all ages ("There's a leek in the boat!" is a personal favorite and doesn't get old.) They also rarely repeat the same gags, and the cast all have their parts to play, from the spunky love interest (Anna Faris) to the dim-witted friend (Andy Samberg) to the requisite tough-as-nails policeman (Terry Crews) and the father who is the exact opposite of his scientist son (James Caan). Though nowhere near as subtle or intriguing as the best of Pixar or Disney (it reveals the main villain in just a few minutes after the film's open), it's still a fun story that will keep the kids happy and won't bore their parents.
Beware, for El Pollo Diablo is coming... for you!
No, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 doesn't have the heart of The Croods, the witty dialogue of Monsters University or even the solid story structure of Turbo or Epic. When all is said and done, it probably will be less remembered than even the underwhelming Despicable Me 2, if only because Minions exist. But Cloudy 2 is still a lot of fun if you want to see something with your family this weekend, since Prisoners is absolutely not a kid-friendly option. If nothing else, it's a very nice option given the alternatives.

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