Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Don Jon

Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
2013. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Scarlett Johansson
Julianne Moore
Tony Danza
Glenne Headly
Brie Larson
Rob Brown
Jeremy Luke
Italia Ricci

Porn. Once it was society's secret shame. For a brief time in the 1970s, it was chic. It scurried back underground in the 80s with the rise of the VCR. To get it, you had to venture into the back room of mom and pop video stores where the other shady characters hung out and hope you weren't spotted entering or exiting by someone you know and thinks you're a fine, upstanding citizen. Now, with the omnipotence of the internet, porn rules the world. There really are only two types of people: those who actively seek it out and those who actively guard against it. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is definitely one of the former. He gets plenty of real sex, but prefers watching it online. He tries to change things when he starts dating the beautiful Barbara (Johansson). She hates nothing more than a man who watches smut.

Don Jon is an exploration of addiction as well as of a relationship where one party dominates the other. Although it focuses more intently on the former, it's more successful with the latter. The addiction generates most of the film's laughs as it points out the differences between porn and real life sex. It's also responsible for part of the running joke that is his weekly confession at church. Where the movie really gets us emotionally involved is in showing us a man trying to maintain his own sense of identity while trying to please his mate. It's clear he has little regard for what anyone thinks of him, including his own father (Danza). With Barbara, it's different. He wants badly to impress her because he believes she is "the one." On the one hand, we understand he watches an unhealthy amount of porn. On the other, we don't want him to give up who he is and do things he doesn't want to in order to keep her. As beautiful as she is, is she worth the price of his soul?

This is where Esther comes in. She's lived, and seems to have been sent to help our hero. Julianne Moore plays the role wonderfully. She's not alone in her excellence. as a whole, the acting is a strong suit for Don Jon. Lead man Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific and really drags us into this character's psyche. Of course, playing an excellently written character helps. Scarlett Johansson is also really good as Barbara. We despise her, which is what we should do. She pretty much gives us our villain. The biggest surprise, though, is how good Tony Danza is. He completely owns every scene he is in. As well as our stars perform throughout the rest of the movie, they struggle to keep up when sharing the screen with him.

Where Don Jon falls short is in connecting all the dots to form a powerful picture. Certain strands of the film are built up to be important, but never go anywhere. The two most easily recognizable are Don's relationship with his father and the one with his God. He and his dad constantly antagonize one another. To what extent this has shaped him, or what he thinks of all this is never explored. It just kind of is. That's okay, but it feels like there are more depths to be mined. This is certainly true of Jon's faith. we never see him really trying to reconcile his constant watching of porn with his religion, or express any serious misgivings about it on a level that doesn't involve Barbara. He merely shows up in the confessional, spouts off the stats on his sexual and masturbatory exploits of the last seven days to the priest and is given a number of times to say "Hail Mary" as penance. There is no evidence of an inner-conflict. The problem with this is we're told multiple times how seriously he takes his faith, yet it doesn't ring true. It seems to be a game he plays. The object is simply to see how many times he'll have to say "Hail Mary." Even if he thought this really redeemed him each week, I would like to have seen that made clear. Without that, it becomes a funny, but hollow reoccurring segment.

Don Jon is still an enjoyable picture. It's lots of fun to watch and has a cute story wrapped in all its vulgarity. The performances are a real treat, with our main cast all turning in excellent work. Both the story and the actors help time fly by. Kudos to Joseph Gordon-Levitt for not only starring in such a flick, but writing it, and using it to make his directorial debut. In front of the camera, the man is a marvel. Behind it, he did some very good work, here. It's his writing that ultimately keeps this from being a special movie. It is satisfied with giving us something entertaining, but stops shy of being thought provoking even though the pieces for it to be precisely that are all in place. Therefore, while I do like the movie quite a bit, I can't help but feel like a number of opportunities have been missed.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, it's been sat near the top of my 'to watch' list for a while now. After your review I think I'll be watching it sooner rather than later :)
    - Allie

    1. Very fun movie. It's just not one to watch with mom, though.

  2. Great review! I liked this movie, but like you, I didn't feel it quite came together. I was left wondering about Jon's character arc -- if he had one. I do agree with you, however, that it was a good study of addiction with some memorable characters and performances.

    1. Thanks. No, he didn't have much of an arc. Still had a good time watching him.

  3. Great review! I enjoyed this one too. I can't wait to see more of JGL in the director's chair.

    1. Thanks. JGL did well directing and shows potential as a story teller.

  4. I surprisingly liked Don Jon more than I thought I would (despite it's predictability). Great review and I'm glad to see JGL in the director's seat :)

    1. It was a pleasant surprise for me, as well. I'd heard it was good, but since I tend to avoid reviews of movies I haven't seen, I wasn't prepared for the laughs it gave me. Thanks for reading.