With a taboo such as porn, you’d expect a film that puts emphasis on the addictive nature of the subject to be completely raunchy and used only as a gag. Instead, Don Jon embraces the suggestive content as a plot device to tell a very interesting view on how we consume media. For how obscure of a plot device it is, Jon’s addiction to porn is used to the story’s advantage, highly effectively, bringing Joseph Gordon-Levitt into the writer-director spotlight.
Exploring the debauchery of one New Jersey born native, Don Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his priorities in life are to his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. (It wouldn’t be surprising if he had OCD based on the film’s editing choices.) Jon has his everything figured out in one neat little rhythm. Until one day, at the bar he works at with his boys, he spots a “dime,” Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). Seeing past his playboy ways, Barbara leaves him out to dry; but the Don can’t get her out of his head. After utilizing his resources, Jon tracks her down and asks her out on a date. Sparks fly, but she isn’t going to give up the goods that easily.
Unlike his many conquests – conquests he finds no real connection with that only porn can offer – Barbara sees Jon’s promiscuous ways as a means to get what she wants. She strings him along, sending him back to school, decreasing his masturbation habit, and enjoys a nice dinner with his folks, consisting of his father Jon Sr. (Tony Danza), his mother Angela (Glenne Headly, and his sister (Brie Larson). As his life begins to spiral out of normalcy, he meets Esther (Julianne Moore), an older classmate who brings a new perspective to Jon’s porn addiction.
For his first time writing and directing a major motion picture, JGL is able to perform well under pressure. With any first time writer or director there are going to be kinks that could use some fine tuning. But as his first feature, Gordon-Levitt delivers an exceptional piece of work. Now that he has gotten his first rodeo out of the way, and if he is able to get a few more movies of this caliber or better under his belt, we can expect great things to come from the boy wonder.
The writing is slick and confident, with many moments of clever humor that makes Don Jon an afternoon delight. However, the females in this movie are a bit underwritten. Barbara works well as a our hero’s foil, always persuading him to get what she wants, but Babs is somewhat two-dimensional, never giving us a chance to see reason in her actions. Some may even see the Jersey Shore setting a tad overbearing. I never found it to be bothersome, yet it doesn’t really serve a purpose other than bring a comedic presence. Needless to say, all of the actors put out fantastic work with the material they had to work with. The chemistry between ScarJo and JGL works well to create excellent sexual tension.
As a director, Gordon-Levitt creates a very tight, well paced narrative, leaving little room for the mind to wander. Every scene is given purpose. Repetitive editing techniques enhance Jon’s addictive personality, giving the film a distinct personality. The message JGL is trying to tell is clear, but for those who are more captivated by the comedy, the direction may get lost in translation during more dramatic moments. When Esther comes into the picture, her relationship with Jon is left slightly underdeveloped at the end. The same could be said for some religious commentary that feels teased.
Despite the few bumps in the road relating to certain writing and directing choices, I found Don Jon to be overly enjoyable. Don Jon is a good mix between a Shame and (500) Days of Summer. While it touches on aspects of one type of sex addiction, it doesn’t aim to be as ambitious or cold as Shame; and as it takes a look at how we perceive relationships like (500) Days, we’re given less of a romantic story and more of a human nature piece.
Don Jon is one of the best times I’ve had in the theater this year so far. The message may be straight forward, but it has a strong weight to make you think. And although it looks like we wont see Joseph Gordon-Levitt hitting the streets of Gotham again, I look forward to his next project and his evolution as a filmmaker.
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Don Jon was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with a run time of 90 minutes. The film has been rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language, and some drug use. (Watch the trailer here)
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