By Gary Murray
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore
Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Running time 90 min
MPAA Rating R (should be NC-17)
Selig Film Rating Cable
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a child television actor (3rd Rock from the Sun) who has made the cross over to both film and adult roles. He has been seen in 50/50, Lincoln and Looper. Though the young man has directed a few shorts, his newest starring vehicle Don Jon is also his feature directing debut.
The story of Don Jon could have been ripped out of the headlines, well, the headlines of MTV’s Jersey Shore. Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a player, a guy who goes from conquest to conquest. His life revolves around family, church, working-out, girls and masturbation. He is obsessed with a video site called Pornhub, visiting it dozens of times a week, which he confesses to his priest all the time.
Even though he scores with real women almost on a daily basis, he prefers porn girls on the Internet. They all seem to do all the things that a real woman will not do. He wants the total experience, a beautiful woman who will do anything and everything in bed.
Eventually, he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). She is everything that he wants in terms of beauty. She also stops him at every turn, curbing his lothario moves. This will be no one-night stand for him, but a commitment. Eventually, he stops chasing every other woman in the bars and dedicates himself to her, taking Barbara to meet his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly).
But, there are problems. Barbara does not do everything Jon wants in bed and finds pornography disgusting. She makes Jon promise that he will never look at those sites again. Don finds out that he cannot stop going to his favorite web address. She loves all those silly romantic flicks and thinks life should run along the lines of those films.
Barbara pushes Jon to better himself by taking some college classes. There, he meets Ester (Julianne Moore). She is an older woman, going back to school. Ester has some demons in her closet but just tries to befriend the lost Jon. The two seem to understand each other on a level that Barbara could never. She has a much more realistic view of adult relationships.
The story of Don Jon is of a man who discovers what is really important in life and what can make a person happy. It is also about sexual addiction and the difference between a fantasy and a real relationship.
This is a very adult film. There are many scenes of Jon watching porn with quick cuts of the video images. It becomes a feast of titillating shots that never deliver a sensual whole. I cannot see how this film did not get the more adult NC-17 label. It deserved it because it borders on porn on more than one occasion. If one is easily offended, stay away from Don Jon.
For a first feature director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a solid job. He tells his tale with efficiency and bereft, he just doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Don Jon is more of a character study than a plot driven film and none of the characters are that interesting. Easily the individual with the most pathos is Ester and her story is buried deep in the story, past the point of no return in terms of interest. Adding her to the mix earlier would have helped with the structure of the story.
As good as Scarlett Johansson has been in numerous films, here she is playing to caricature. Barbara is not a very well thought-out character, playing along the clichés of the rom-com genre. She is vain and cute and utterly uninteresting.
Much better were Tony Danza and Glenne Headly. The two look like a married couple and the family dynamic between them is honest. If the film would have focused on two parents and dealing with adult children, the film would have been stronger. Also in the family mix is breakout actress Brie Larson as the bored sister who says almost nothing until the end.
Don Jon is a decent first effort in both writing and directing for young Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a promise of things to come. It is not a great film but is does have a few bright moments of cinematic interest. This is a calling card for the young actor to get more work behind the camera.