A close study of Brie Larson’s Monica in “Don Jon”

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Brie Larson’s Monica is a classic quiet sibling at the dinner table in “Don Jon,” hearing everything and saying nothing, except for a single poignant moment. Monica waits quietly in the background, but she’s observant, smart and opinionated. You know it, but wait an hour and a half to see it.

Jon’s finally coming clean about Barbara leaving him weeks ago and his mother, Angela, throws a fit because she’s running out of time to be a grandma and thinks it was her son’s last chance. Jon’s dad, Sr., is upset mostly because he enjoyed looking across the table at blonde Barbara’s unbelievable body. The admission doesn’t get a rise out of Monica, though, because she probably already knew and thinks it’s a good thing for her older brother. That girl, she says, has her own agenda.

tumblr_myt6h3VJKj1rcdgd0o1_250It’s so true. We’ve seen it. Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara is a house wife in waiting. She was raised in a home with a maid and, even as an adult, hasn’t had to do anything herself because her looks get men to wait on her hand and foot. I thought Annie from “The Nanny Diaries” would understand the value of manual labor like Jon does — and I’m not talking about his self-satisfying manual labor that this Joseph Gordon-Levitt is all about. Jon wouldn’t dare restock his Swiffer because he shouldn’t have to do that. This is the kind of house she grew up in, people. Barbara has everything the self-involved Jon desires in a female companion. Her body is like a finished puzzle, including the best bits and pieces taken from the porn stars on Jon’s computer.

This film, like Monica, tells it like it is. To obsess over pornography the way Jon does, he has to be supremely into his own image. Only Monica and Julianne Moore’s Esther have the guts to tell him so. Monica knows it’s a good thing Barbara doesn’t hang around Jon anymore because all she did was ask him for things and not to do things. She wanted to pry him from his service-laden lifestyle and mold him into a man with a degree and a desk job, who makes money and buys her nice things. She can’t provide him with the emotional support, nay guidance, of Esther, and he knows it; in fact, I’m convinced the only reason he called Barbara for coffee was to see how meticulously self-involved she really is.

Monica is none of these things. It’s actually kind of weird that she’s a part of her family, which is dominated by Jon’s intimidating presence, Angela’s constant obsessions and Sr.’s older impersonation of his son. I thought JGL’s filmmaker savvy came to light in the scene when Monica finally speaks, after a whole movie of doing this:

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She’s quiet, always on her phone, looking up when the drama of a conversation heightens and all of the dominant personalities in the room shut her out. What happens when she finally speaks? The television is too loud to hear her. She has to repeat herself, after Sr. turns down the volume. As illuminating as her only line was, JGL could’ve directed the scene just to have her say it. But that wouldn’t have fit so well with her character, in that the one time she speaks her mind, she’s drained out by a big play in the football game. Good for Angela to turn off the television and give Monica the floor.

This is a challenging role for Larson to take, but she succeeds in only the way she can. Someway, somehow, Monica shows you who she is without saying a word. Her only line in the film is more of a relief than a surprise because you knew it was coming. You knew she sat back, calculating, waiting for her moment. Larson read the script, she knew it was only a matter of time until she got to speak, but the challenge was in finding a way to get there.

I wonder what Monica would think of this movie.

 

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