A suicidal young man in the costume of a 17th-century Spanish swordsman perches on top of a billboard. A psychiatrist is dispatched to talk him down. The kid says he’s the legendary Spanish lover Don Juan. The shrink says, Why don’t you come off the ledge and tell me about it. On such light gusts of fantasy, ”Don Juan DeMarco” wafts like a pretty feather – well, maybe an exotic plume.
Of course, the mental case who’s more in touch with the emotional nuances of life than his saner guardian is a staple character in romanticized fiction. As the formula goes, the madman, in his disarming innocence, inspires in the guardian (usually a world-weary guy) a glorious new appreciation of life. Writer-director Jeremy Leven’s coup was to cast Johnny Depp as Don Juan, Marlon Brando as the shrink, and Faye Dunaway as the doctor’s wife – and to let whimsy rip.
What a bizarro trio! Depp, in a soft, seductive accent, makes a serious, tender Don. The role falls smack in the middle of Depp territory – a misfit with a romantic heart – but there’s more appealing manliness in this performance than could be tweezed out of ”Benny & Joon,” ”What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” or ”Ed Wood.”
And consequently, there’s something substantial against which Brando can throw his extraordinary self. The man obviously maneuvers to a music all his own, but paired with Depp, he tangoes in a beautifully syncopated relationship. Paired with Dunaway, meanwhile, Brando waltzes with a great dame of an actress who’s totally up to his speed in eccentricity as well as in talent. (The two should make their own romantic comedy!)
The settings are lush: In staging the young man’s picaresque autobiography (or at least one he has invented for himself), Leven quite naturally turns to exotic scenes of seduction in warm-climate countries populated by hot-blooded women (who remain, nevertheless, chastely dressed). There’s no great romantic climax to ”Don Juan DeMarco” (and that may be a drawback for Depp lovers looking to swoon), but there is an airy delicacy to this tall tale that fits in perfectly with the weather these days, the hormones, the whole seasonal gestalt.