Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore
Length: 90 minutes
Looking at the established visionaries Joseph Gordon-Levitt has worked with over the years; it’s not hard to deduce how the actor might’ve been bitten by the filmmaking bug. With key roles in pictures helmed by Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, the former 3rd Rock from the Sun moppet must’ve picked up a few tricks for his directorial own debut Don Jon. The tale of a hunky New Jersey bred lothario with a pornographic addiction; Don Jon is a clinical and amusing Hollywood comedy, albeit one that’s aim possibly outstrips its means. The feature trundles along entertaining and provides sprightly performances from a committed cast, but Levitt seems to lose focus in the dying throws. Don Jon meanders toward its climax sans the confidence of its earlier portions.
Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a weight pumpin’ bartender, with a proclivity toward routine and the seduction of the fairer gender. Every weekend Don hits the town alongside his buddies and ends up with a fresh, voluptuous conquest on his arm, and more importantly in his bed. However, despite his carnal success Don has a secret – he finds Internet smut far more gratifying than the actual act of sex. Indulging a regular masturbatory cycle amid his daily practises, Don’s world is shaken when he meets the gorgeous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a city gal who doesn’t immediately fall prey to his charms. Don begins to court Barbara in a more traditional manner, slowly winning her affections – but when she uncovers his self-pleasuring habit their relationship comes under substantial strain.
Don Jon is a clinical and amusing Hollywood comedy, albeit one that’s aim possibly outstrips its means
Don Jon is filled with strong ideas and for the first hour Gordon-Levitt toys with each one successfully. He draws accurate faux parallels between mainstream Hollywood product and porn. The extremely vain strain of acceptable machismo that infects 21st century society is succinctly detailed. He essays the uneasy relationship between the modern male psyche and traditional values of Christianity; painting a world so secular that sin can be measured and abolished satisfactorily with arbitrarily ascribed degrees of penance. The problem with Don Jon isn’t in the exploration or observation of these themes, it’s in the sketchy and rudimentary style of the film’s dramatic aesthetic. Gordon-Levitt only manages to cultivate surface-level relationships here, whether it’s between Jon and ideal squeeze Barbara, his insecure mother (gamely portrayed by Glenne Headly) or a bond that builds between him and night-class cohort Esther (Julianne Moore). All of these arcs are fashioned acceptably into a traditional narrative, but they’re never pulled apart as fully as one might expect. Don Jon is fun cinema, but it’s not tangibly soulful.
The gags are of a high quality (some might prove shamefully relatable for the male contingent) and at 90 minutes the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It helps to have supporting players like Johansson and Moore on dependable form alongside Levitt’s admittedly excellent title turn, but ultimately it’s not enough to provide the piece with the finesse it crucially lacks. Ambition is not the movie’s issue, but rather the wrapping of its theories and conceits into a radical or visibly challenging storytelling entity. Don Jon is concretely better than most Hollywood rom-coms and boasts a far edgier sensibility (prudish mothers aren’t acceptable viewing partners for this film), but I can’t help ponder if something emotionally rawer might’ve better sealed the deal. From a dramatic standpoint Don Jon is a mirror of the pornography it so bravely boasts; enticing in the moment but hardly memorable.