Movie Review: Don Jon
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Reviewed: 6 October 2013
Joseph Gordon-Levitt directed, wrote, and stars in Don Jon, a film is quite funny, well-constructed, and warm in its navigation of one man's addiction to pornography and struggle to connect with others. Gordon-Levitt, impressive biceps and confidence, stars as Don, a northern New Jersey lothario who admits to being more rapturous about his encounters online with pornography than the women he meets in clubs. Don seems arrested a bit, at odds with his family (a wonderful Tony Danza and Glenne Headley), and focused on obtaining forgiveness for his sins from his parish priest and reciting prayers during reps at the gym. He drives the streets with a furious intensity, barking curses at those in his path. Jon's orbit is knocked about after meeting a ten, his dream girl, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who pushes him out of his accustomed routines and challenges his habits. Don begins taking classes and changing, though not always to his liking. The film depicts Don's journey from solopsism as necessary and vital, though the evolution is never easy.
Gordon-Levitt the filmmaker relies upon some tried and true techniques that he none-the-less injects with freshness. He structures the film through the character's routines: church, dinner with family, the club, school. That structure provides a consistent anchor, giving us touchstones in the character's life, though I will admit to wanting to know more about Don that the movie is willing to show us. The film never becomes cartoonish or treats its characters disrespectfully. The commentary on our porn-soaked world where even commercials for fast food use sexual imagery seems apt, and Don Jon wonders openly about how the internet and even access to images on phones have rewired our brains. There is a bit of on-the-nose analysis of how romantic films and images of princesses serve as a counterpoint to that culture, though the film is not necessarily sure to go with that (though it provides for some fun mock-film clips with recognizable stars).
This film is not your typical romantic comedy. And that is a good thing. It demands more.
I admired the film's meandering quality as well as my never being quite certain what direction it was traveling down, particularly with Julianne Moore's character. All the performances are terrific, and it was nice to see Scarlett Johansson act in a more demanding role. Gordon-Levitt remains charming, impossibly charming, and family scenes in the household resemble a bit of Silver Linings Playbook for their volatility and claustrophobia. Gordon-Levitt is a remarkable talent as evidenced in his last few films: Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Lincoln, Looper, 50/50, and Premium Rush. With Don Jon, he proves that he is game for anything and capable behind the camera as well as in front of it.