Release: Friday, September 27, 2013
Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes for broke here, starring in his big screen directorial and writing debut. He’s Jon Martello, a confident, handsome twenty-something born and raised in New Jersey, first introduced as a club regular, ladykiller and porn addict. Or, well . . . as someone who prefers porn to having sex with someone.
Indeed, Don Jon winds up becoming an unusually revealing and provocative experience. It’s also refreshingly honest. I can’t recall the last screening I attended in which there was quite so much nervous laughter and so many outbursts of it, moments in which you get the “haha, oh yeah that’s totally me” kinds of laughs intermixed with genuine bouts of uncontrollable hysteria. This is what’s known as the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Effect.
All I can say for that is, thank goodness someone approved of JGL’s idea to write, direct and star in his own film. As it turns out, not only is his debut a thoroughly entertaining one, it manages to balance its overt sex appeal with a healthy dosage of decency and maturity. Don Jon scrubs the Paganism from the subject of talking hot and heavy sex. When Jon meets the woman of his dreams at a club, his life might well be heading in a new direction. Set on a collision course with finding true love, will she be the one to make his life better, and thus that of his mother as well? (Are grandchildren so much to ask for??)
First off, JGL does a great job of not really caring what a certain portion of his fanbase may or may not think of his creative choices, as there is many a debasing moment with him shirtless, hunched over and alone by his laptop, his naked despair (or despairing nakedness, whichever) occupying the center of the screen. There’s a good bit of narration as well, most of which serve as explanations as to why Jon prefers watching sex to actually engaging in it. In short, JGL puts it all out there, and the film benefits.
At the core of the very-nearly-sappy story is a man who’s so good at being one-dimensional he hasn’t ever stopped to think twice about settling down and starting a family, though that’s surely what his parents — the great Tony Danza, and a hilarious Glenne Headly — want and expect from him. They have no idea about his relationship with his computer. Jon doesn’t much care; life is working for him perfectly well as is. But when he comes across Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), the young man’s suddenly finding himself having to rearrange his daily life . . . and maybe even his priorities?
The skeletal framework of the film is hard to ignore — arguably the only major crack in its composure. Splicing scenes of ‘the Don’ at the gym, doing his “thing” at home, going to confession, and combing the clubs, all in equal measure, the routine becomes somewhat predictable, and likely will be even more obvious upon repeat viewings. That said, it works just fine for a debut film from someone as young as Levitt. It’s an effective, albeit conspicuous, story-building technique that prompts laughs perhaps more often than the sight of ridiculous clips from various pornos.
The most fascinating aspect of Don Jon has to be the personal growth, the progress of maturity as the story unfolds. While attending classes (at the request of Barbara, in order for him to actually “make something of himself”), Jon comes across an older woman (Julianne Moore) in the same class. His first encounter with her is more than awkward and seems dismissive yet, what JGL does next (from a directorial standpoint) is one of the few developments in his film that’s unpredictable, and quite frankly, one which gives the film a great deal of credibility — if only also slightly threatening mawkishness.
Jon’s situation is really just a contemporary version of a man in denial; in 17th Century Spain, Don Juan roamed the Spanish hills, conquering women, slaying men, and later boasting about it. The bigger the challenge, the bigger reward, in his eyes. Eventually, the great misogynist would find his soul depraved, and denied salvation due to the unconscionable nature of his sins. The amiable native Angeleno cleverly adapted the basic qualities of the fictitious lothario for a modern audience. Then he managed to attract the attention of some of the most beautiful people working in the industry today. The result is a very satisfying mixture that is far more poignant than might first be assumed.
Don Jon is as successful as one might expect from a virgin director. It would seem the young actor has a bright future ahead of him, now in multiple aspects of the art form. He’s got a few areas to develop on as a director, but seeing as though this is his starting point, it should be fascinating to see what might come next from one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars.
Recommendation: Don Jon finds JGL at his most exposed — literally and figuratively, of course. I think the trailers do their job quite well with this one. And, if you like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then you’re already there, aren’t you?
Rated: R (for risqué)
Running Time: 90 mins.
Quoted: “They give awards for porn, too. . .”
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