By Benjamin Lane
Don Jon. (2013). Run Time: 89 mins. MPAA: R (for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language, and some drug use). Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson and Glenne Headly. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perhaps the hottest upcoming star in Hollywood. Of the four (that’s right, four) movies he was in last year, three of them were great (Lincoln, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper) and one of them was really good (Premium Rush). Not to mention his earlier roles in the past few years such as 50/50, Brick, 500 Days of Summer and Inception. The kid from Angels in the Outfield has really grown into something massively special, rising to the top as not only one of the best young actors, but one of the most successful actors working today. And with Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt proves his talent with the pen and behind the camera in his directorial and writing debut.
Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is your typical Don Juan, meaning he has the ability to get a different woman every weekend. He’s young, fit, handsome and smooth talking, and this has gotten him far with the ladies. But Jon has a problem. As much sex as he gets, nothing satisfies him quite like his porn. Even when he has girls over, he finds a way to sneak out and have a session with his good ole PC. As he says it, the sound of his computer turning on gets him “hard as a fucking rock.” Which poses a major setback in Jon’s life when he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a gum cracking, typical Jersey babe who has her own thoughts about porn: it’s disgusting. But just as Barbara is disgusted by the fantasy element of porn, Jon is disgusted by Barbara’s sort of addiction: romance movies. They, too, are fantastical, just in a less graphic fashion. So, those two thoughts on how men and women view sex and relationships go head to head and amount to a surprising knockout of a movie that sets up a hopeful future for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the writing and directing field.
It can’t be easy to play the lead role in a movie you wrote and directed. You know the character best, sure. But it’s a lot of responsibility to maintain in that situation. In an interview, Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he approached Christopher Nolan on the set of The Dark Knight Rises and told him he was writing and directing a film, to which Nolan responded, “You would be good at that.” But when Gordon-Levitt said he was going to play the lead character that worried Nolan, and he asked JGL if he really wanted to do that. That is a reasonable question from a legendary filmmaker. To star in your debut for both writing and directing is a risky move, but JGL went for it, and he knocks it out of the park. He is the perfect embodiment of his character, in fact, his character reflects him a bit in society today. He’s the young stud that girls want and guys want to be. He gives a endlessly fun and entertaining performance. Supporting him is Scarlett Johansson, cracking the gum and putting on an intentionally annoying Jersey Shore-like accent that rocks the screen. She gives one of her best and most real performances here. Julianne Moore plays Esther, an older woman who goes to college with Jon, and she has a surprisingly large role. Thankfully, she adds a sweet and soothing element to the film that I thought was perfect, and she does a terrific job. Above all, Tony Danza rocks this movie. He plays the typical middle class dad, drinking beer and watching football, cursing at the screen and wearing a wife beater. He steals every scene he’s in, literally, and it’s great to see him in a movie again.
The most popular aspect of this movie, however, is the fact that it is written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As far as directing goes, Gordon-Levitt is a charming addition to the list of Hollywood directors as he shows a rare style of flashy and sharp direction that doesn’t feel too sloppy. This movie involves porn, and there are a lot of porn clips in this movie, and the way JGL incorporates them on screen by quick cut editing is a wonderful feat. For a first time director, I was very impressed and very relieved to see he got it right on. Now on to the writing. I love this script. It’s not a romantic comedy that is like any romantic comedy. It makes fun of romantic comedies. It’s not a voiceless script that is written to draw in bucks. It has a lot to say. It says a lot about men and women, their relationships, sex, their views on sex, the danger of porn and the damage living in a virtual fantasy world can do to you. Sometimes the jokes don’t hit, there is a mediocre side plot involving Jon’s sister, and sometimes the atmosphere feels too much like Jersey Shore, but all that aside, the script has a voice. Gordon-Levitt knows his audience, and his message hits hard in a not so forceful manner. Rarely ever have I been so entertained and in agreement with a character’s monologue being voiced over. Almost everything Jon was saying either had me busting a gut or nodding my head. He gets it right. He makes vulgarity sincerity. That’s rare.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Don Jon is a perfect showcase of not only Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting talent, but his newfound talent of writing and directing. The direction has just enough flare and precision; the writing, while suffering from some minor flaws, finds a way to be vulgar yet simultaneously sincere; and the performances are gold. This is a mammoth kick starter for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing/directing career. Don Jon is a rare gem.