Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls the trifecta in Don Jon: writing, directing, and starring in a movie about a dude coming to grips with the vapid nature of his existence and the difference between love and what transpires in smut films. He finds that real sex doesn’t measure up to the fantasy of online pornography, where he feels he can “lose himself”. But his addiction to porn has made him dissatisfied with life, and he sets out on a personal journey to find more than just gratifying sex. He ends up finding the bigger picture, learning about life and love through two different women.
Don Jon is a speedy little comedy about not just sex addiction, but also the modern lives wasted on the “quick fix” and shallow gratification. JGL’s character of Jon is the embodiment of a superficial, 20-something guy that only cares for his own pleasure, rating all woman from “one to a dime” and making sure he gets with all the “tens” he can. But it’s never enough, he still needs his porno to get though the day.
Jon has his compulsively set routine: Gym-tan-laundry-porn. Which is suddenly broken when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the perfect ten. But she’s going to require a lot of work as Jon soon learns he needs to use the “long game” on her: dating, meeting her friends and family, etc., before she ever lets him sleep with her. Jon judges her to be worth it. When their relationship hits a roadblock due to his porn needs, Jon finds himself drawn to an older woman from his night school, Esther (Julianne Moore), who is everything Barbara isn’t. The couple soon set out on a strange, yet beautiful relationship where each is learning new things and becoming better people.
The movie is definitely a director’s first movie, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does have that feeling. It seems that JGL had a lot to say, and wanted to make sure all of it was said in this first outing. There are few plot points that never seem resolved, or really matter if they were in the movie at all. Sometimes less is more. This doesn’t hurt or pull you out of the movie by any means, but it takes away from Levitt’s great writing. He’ll learn in time to have better pacing and time usage with his films, but as a writer, he already feels like a seasoned pro.
If anything can be said about his first directorial movie, it’s that he is a better writer than a director. Each character is thought out and alive, it also didn’t hurt that he had some of the best actors portraying them. Each actor brought something so “real” to their characters, from their body movements to their stereotypical Jersey “Saturday Night Live” sketch accents, and even to the clothes they wear. Levitt took the time to make sure all the actors and characters meld together like they were all a second skin. Everyone shines in this no matter how little or big his or her part was.
A nice addition to the cast was Jon’s family. We only get to see them at church or during the Sunday dinners where a big-screen TV dominates the family meals. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly shout back-and-forth like a great sitcom couple, where Jon’s younger sister (Brie Larson) pecks away at her smartphone, never looking up. All three were fantastic and worked great on screen. There was something very believable between Levitt and Danza’s father-son relationship, even if it did borderline on the Jersey stereotypes a bit much: Slapping each other around, all F-bomb football talk, and even going so far as to wear the “wife-beater” at the dinner table. But it’s all played for comedy, so it’s forgivable and very funny.
The use of the camera and how the movie is shot is a little mundane and “artsy” for art sake only. The lighting is given a very dramatic feel for the sex scenes, which could be played for more of a comedic effect than anything else. Why else does one have a spotlight on them when they climax? But the strange lighting just seems to never stop, anytime we’re in Jon’s room at night, the room become almost alive with his sexual light energy. Being his room is the porn room, you see why this is done, but it does seem slightly out of place.
As does some of the editing, for the most part the movie is edited correctly, keeping with a good pace and whatnot, never giving any issues. But when the film cuts in porn scenes–way too many times–they seem jarring and way too bright. Your eyes have to take a second and adjust to what’s going on here and there. We as moviegoers aren’t used to seeing JGL and Julianne Moore having a conversation where suddenly cuts of hardcore sex break in to disrupt the flow. There might be a little more porn cuts than the movie needed, but it never fails to make you laugh. And if that was the intension, well played Mr. Gordon-Levitt. Well played indeed.
Even though there’s a lot going on in the movie: a modern story about a New Jersey lothario with a little Catholic satire thrown in and plenty of porn, it never strays too far from the main goal of Jon learning and trying to find himself. Don Jon is an enjoyable movie that shows more of the considerable talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose range is greater than we have yet to see. He is the real deal and audiences should look forward to what other great creativity he has.