Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directorial debut is a satisfying affair. While fellow actor Shia LeBouef’s attempts at creativity not only proved to be more theft than artistry, but also resulted in what will inevitably be the flat-lining of his career, Gordon-Levitt has delivered a sturdy debut.
Jon “Don Jon” Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a pumped-up Noo Joisey guy, all slicked back hair and winning smile. He has a few things in life which are important to him: family, the church, his body, his guys, women and porn. Porn being the one which rules his life. Don Jon is a porn addict. Indeed at the start of the film you begin to suspect Pornhub paid a great deal for product placement, so often does their URL appear. Real-life women just don’t offer him the same release that masturbating to the blank-eyed women of the internet does, and he sleeps with A LOT of women, so this is truly tried and tested. Enter Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), old-fashioned Noo Joisey girl, fan of romantic comedies and confirmed hottie. Barbara does something that no woman has ever done to Don Jon- she doesn’t sleep with him. This seems to hold him under some magical spell, and he soon finds himself at the beck and call of his New Jersey princess. While Don Jon compares his life to the porn he spends his evenings consuming, Barbara lives her life by the rules of rom coms. She is queen of her own universe, and isn’t willing to bend her ideas of her future life for anyone else.
Now on it’s own that would have been a fairly standard rom-com. Luckily Gordon-Levitt takes it a step further, and in comes the radiant Julianne Moore as fellow night-school student Esther and Don Jon finds himself faced with the stark reality of his own situation.
Don Jon starts as a rather heavy-handed affair. It feels like Gordon-Levitt pulled out all the stops to remind us of the hyper-sexualised world we all live in, that men and women are bombarded with unrealistic body images, and importantly for the narrative, the hyper-real sex of internet porn. Perhaps we are all now conditioned to prefer fantasy to reality? It’s a fair point, but by the 15th cut away to another nubile woman’s open mouth you do want to yell “WE GET IT”. However, once Gordon-Levitt gets into the meat of the story, once he and Barbara have found their feet, that’s when the film really shines. There are some great moments around the family dinner table, with a particularly minimalist role for the brilliant Brie Larson as Jon’s phone-obsessed sister, and some warm scenes of bromance with his buddies. The highlights are the scenes between Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with the pair having an easy chemistry that radiates warmth, although at times it does feel like a different film when the pair occupy the screen. Yes, it has a sentimental ending, but that proves to be a much needed antidote to the early porn-heavy scenes.
It’s strength is in the detail rather than the big picture. There are no big directorial flourishes, no trick shots, no in-camera trickery. It neatly takes some themes from both Don Jon’s favourite porn and Barbara’s favourite rom coms and sneaks them into the frame. For the most part though the direction is barely discernible, and that is a big compliment in a film which looks at the blurring lines between fantasy and reality.
After a somewhat heavy-handed first 20 minutes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directorial debut settles in to be a warm, funny tale about the blurring of fantasy and reality, with shades of Woody Allen, and could sit quite neatly as a companion piece to “Her.”
7 out of 10