Title: Don Jon
Directed By: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s highly stylized and well-executed directorial choices make “Don Jon” a raunchy romp, but then he throws in just enough of that good old JGL charm to give it some heart.
It makes sense that Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) values his physique, his home, his car, his family, his church, his friends and his girls, but porn? When it comes to things Jon just can’t live without, porn is pretty high up there. And we’re not talking about the occasional indulgence. Not only does Jon have a habit of using pornography to get the job done dozens of times a week, but he also prefers it to the real thing. Considering he tends to stick to one-night stands, it’s never really been an issue, but when Jon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and thinks she might be worth a long-term relationship, the porn just has to go.
After putting a handful of short films on his resume, Gordon-Levitt made the move to features and, turns out, he was ready. “Don Jon” is out there to say the least and could easily have been an unfunny, pointless disaster, but Gordon-Levitt formulates the ideal unique style that well supports the comedy and surprisingly moving character journey.
Jon is the ultimate womanizer. He’s overconfident, immature, takes way too much pleasure in rating woman on a scale of one to ten and then taking the top contender home with him. You should hate Jon. But Jon is played by Gordon-Levitt and Gordon-Levitt has this incredible ability to infuse the character with enough innocence that you’re tempted to let the bad behavior slide just enough to care. This is the only way for the “Don Jon” narrative to work and Gordon-Levitt nails it.
The character is something of a man-child. He lives on his own and seems to take care of himself, but there’s no talk of a proper job. However, it turns out, that doesn’t make Jon any less likable, rather it gives the viewer an in. Jon is very clearly a full-grown man, but it’s almost as if his internal maturing process hit a snag. When you’re watching a grown man fawn over his body, pad, ride, etc., it’s deplorable. However, when you’re watching someone on the younger side who’s somewhat independent, but also stinted by a childish form of selfishness, you don’t hate him, rather you pity him, and because you don’t hate but pity Jon, you want to see him get past this issue and that proves to be a prime balancing factor for the film’s highly stylized format and tone.
The large majority of the film moves at a rip-roaring pace with quick cuts and well-timed edits to maximize each joke’s potential. It’s a bold move on Gordon-Levitt’s part, but it’s necessary because the large majority of “Don Jon” consists of caricatures that require the humor boost.
Johansson’s Barbara is like a “Jersey Shore” transplant with a personality disorder. One minute she’s kind, caring, and the girl of Jon’s dreams, but the next, she’s demanding, unforgiving, and a borderline lunatic. The transition is harsh, jarring, and essentially makes the character one big joke. However, it’s Barbara’s effect on Jon that’s vital to the character’s success and in that respect, Johansson gets the job done. Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson earn some laughs as Jon’s family, but the shtick eventually sputters out, making their primary contribution building Jon’s backstory and giving his current predicament a stronger framework.
Then we’ve got Julianne Moore’s Esther, an older woman Jon meets during a class. As far as script structure goes, Esther is an absolute mess. She’s so erratic and underdeveloped that she’s impossible to track, but her effect on Jon is so positive and unique that she ultimately becomes a delightful addition.
What makes “Don Jon” particularly successful and special is that, oddly enough, whether you’re willing to admit it or not, Jon’s a relatable guy. You may not struggle with a severe addiction to porn, but being rigid in a certain respect and needing to change that to accommodate another person or to improve one’s self is a familiar scenario and in that respect, “Don Jon” is pleasantly sincere.