Don Jon

© 2013 Ray Wong

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has, over the years, matured as an actor and a thinking-woman's sex symbol. Now with his writing and directorial debut, he has grown as a filmmaker as well.

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), known as Don Jon to his friend, is your regular good guy. Typical for his Italian heritage, Jon is devoted to his life, his family, his church, and his friends. He is also quite a player, and is addicted to pornography. Even though he has no trouble hooking up with beautiful women, he could only "lose himself" with porn. Yet when he meets sexy, beautiful Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he realizes that he could fall in love and everything could change.

Well, not quite. Even though he really adores Barbara, he is not convinced that anything has changed. Also Barbara wants Jon to improve himself, so he enrolls in adult classes. His friends are puzzled by his changes, but his parents are delighted that Jon is finally settling down. And yet Jon doesn't seem all that happy after all. He is still often angry; and he is still addicted to porn. Only now he is more secretive about it as Barbara forbids him.

At his class, he meets an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) who seems to have a crush for Jon. Annoyed by her approach, he tries to avoid her but somehow finds her mysterious and alluring at the same time. Meanwhile at home, his relationship with Barbara explodes when she discovers that he has been lying about watching porn.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Loopers) is a solid actor who has been stuck with lighter roles until recently. He wrote, directed and acted in this movie so it seems that he has complete control of the character and the story, and it shows. His acting is confident, natural (if not a bit overly aggressive), and sexy. Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers) also plays against type as the sexy, manipulative Barbara. Together they make a good pair and play off each other nicely.

Julianne Moore (Being Flynn) also turns in a great performance as Esther, the lonesome "strange" classmate who has a crush on Jon. Moore's subtlety gives the character an extra layer of truth that slowly reveals how the character plays a role in Jon's life. The supporting cast does their job effectively. Tony Danza (Crash) is somewhat over the top as Jon's hot-tempered father. Glenne Headly (The Joneses) is delightful as Jon's mother, and Brie Larson (Short Term 12) has only two lines but delivers them with amazing insight.

Gordon-Levitt's screenplay is quirky (it reminds me of (500) Days of Summer, also starring Gordon-Levitt himself), bald and raunchy. He doesn't shy away from the bald theme of sex, which earns the film a much deserved R rating. Granted, his version of the "straight male" is somewhat cliched and stereotypical: Don Jon is all machismo. There is no subtlety in that characterization; fortunately Gordon-Levitt gives the character a softer, more boyish inner core -- that this man just want to love and be loved like everybody else. The dialogue can be somewhat stiff and blunt, and the introduction of Esther seems forced. However, this being his first screenplay I find it rather well done. It is short and to the point, and often amusing.

His direction is also blunt and to the point. The style is very contemporary and non-apologetic. He uses repetition to depict Jon's inner self and the symbolism is well placed. The pacing is great and the tone is right. The film does get somewhat somber and serious near the end that seems slightly out of sync with the rest, but soon it picks up again.

Gordon-Levitt first filmmaking effort pays off. Although not on a grand scale, this should further establish him as a solid filmmaker and an emerging force in young Hollywood, which is in dire need for fresh breaths.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Writer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Distributor: Relativity Media
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic sexual material, dialogue, language and drug use
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.7 out of 10.0 

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