Don Jon (***)
Running time-90 minutes
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Brie Larson.
(MovieHouse, Cityside Mall 13/11/13)
SINCE 2009’s 500 Days of summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career has been on a roll- Inception, 50/50, The Dark Knight Rises– with his ascension to true Hollywood A-lister recognised by his invitation to this year’s Academy Awards, the first time he had attended. Ever since 500 Days of Summer paired him so successfully with Zooey Deschanel, many of his fans have been dying to see him do another romantic comedy, Don Jon is not it.
Eagle-eyed viewers of the 85th Academy Awards would have noticed Joseph Gordon-Levitt wearing a badge on his lapel for his long held personal project, Hit Record- a collaborative film production company that any independent filmmaker can become involved with. Don Jon is the first feature film to be produced by Hit Record Films. It’s also Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut from his own original script.
The plot centres on New Jersey bachelor Jon (Gordon-Levitt) who enjoys his single lifestyle of going to the gym, nights out with his boys and taking a different girl home every night. It’s a shallow, self-gratifying existence, but where Jon really gets his kicks is his penchant for pornographic websites. The whole minutiae of his porn routine, where even the Apple start-up noise takes on erotic connotations, holds him enthralled.
Everything seems to change, however, when Jon meets Barbara (Johansson) and before he knows it he’s in a committed relationship. But despite changing on many levels, Jon can’t kick his porn habit and, frankly, he doesn’t see why he should have to. Concurrently to the main plot, Jon begins to develop a friendship with a strange woman at his night class, Esther (Moore). Esther and Jon’s relationship has an honesty that he doesn’t have with Barbara, perhaps because Esther doesn’t fall into Jon’s commodity-like evaluation of what a woman should be, and this relationship grows stronger as the other one falters.
In Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a great deal of promise as a screenwriter and director. Choosing a subject matter such as the effects of online pornography- although slightly en vogue with films such as Shame and Thanks for Sharing following similar lines- shows a desire on Gordon-Levitt’s part to push the boundaries of popular cinema and there is no greater signal of intent than an 18 certificate in this 12A era.
The use of repetition in the film helps to build a sense of Jon’s addictive routine, but also expertly develops a character shorthand that is the perfect stimulus for some well-judged comedy. In particular, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly put on a riotous double act as Jon’s bickering parents.
There is a sense of what’s going on underneath in Jon’s character- as he drives his car on the way to church we always see him filled with rage, screaming at other motorists, but this is underdeveloped. The subplot with Julianne Moore’s Esther also explores interesting territory as their kinship suggests that the porn he watches has left Jon a damaged person who pushes away intimacy.
Sadly, the less interesting marquee pairing of Gordon-Levitt and Johansson is given much more screen time than the always watchable Moore and the interesting discourse of women’s images in the media that the film begins with is lost almost immediately. Likewise the end of the film feels disingenuous to the subject matter and ultimately what we’re left with is an entertaining Hollywood movie with a few interesting ideas and a decent amount of laughs rather than a truly inventive and meaningful film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt remains one to watch, however.
Review by Richard Davis