Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (debut)
For an actor turned director/writer who has never stepped foot behind a camera to shoot a feature film before, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) makes a commendable debut with “Don Jon,” a flawed yet jaunty adult-themed comedy that puts the spotlight on male sexuality and the desires that drive some to obsession.
As the second film to hit theaters in as many weeks that takes a comedic angle to the subject of sexual addiction (“Thanks for Sharing” being the other), “Don Jon” is less about the method of controlling the problem as much as it is stripping it down to reveal the real individual behind an amplified version of something, arguably, all men do.
Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character, Jon Martello, a porn-addicted New Jersey bartender, whose only interests in life include working out, club hopping and hooking up with good-looking women, and, most importantly, spending any other free time he has firing up his laptop to get his fix of visual pleasures via adult entertainment websites. When he meets Barbara Sugarman (a perfectly cast Scarlett Johansson in one of her best roles ever), however, his secret indulgence has to become even more guarded since she is an old-fashioned Catholic who just doesn’t understand why guys watch dirty movies in the first place.
In Jon’s case, it’s not so much a question of why as it is why so much? And why, if he can easily attract a new girl to bed every night, does he always find more gratification from images on a computer screen? It’s an interesting character study Gordon-Levitt presents, although a large portion of the narrative does become rather repetitive as the film continues. For example, in one ongoing joke, Jon visits the church confessional regularly to admit his sins of the flesh (sex out of wedlock, masturbation), but after the same scene plays out again and again, the effectiveness is lost. The same thing happens with other routines in the script like the sound of his Apple computer turning on (an indication to audiences he’s about to partake in some online porn) and having dinner with his family (Tony Danza plays his dad; Glenne Headly his mom; Brie Larson his disengaged sister), which always ends in the same cliche argument (they don’t understand why he can’t find an nice girl to settle down with).
Julianne Moore (“Boogie Nights”) enters into the third act of the film as Esther, a fellow college classmate of Jon, who is basically added to the narrative so Jon can have a reason to follow some type of character arc and not come out as the same douchebag he started as at the beginning. It works marginally, although it’s hard to picture Jon as anything but a sex fiend even when he’s trying to kick his habit and learn to love someone unconditionally.
“Don Jon” is a very risky choice by Gordon-Levitt. The decision to tackle this sort of topic doesn’t leave him unscathed, but he manages to wrap everything up without writing himself into awkward corners. All in all, he definitely has a future as a director in some capacity just in case that whole acting thing doesn’t pan out like he planned.