Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Julianne Moore, and Brie Larson
Over the last few years, the transition from Teen Beat child star to serious actor has been made to look easy by one Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Inner circles of seriously trained actors have been caught in this transition and not able to get out, so good for him that he has handled it about as well as one can in the face of odds being stacked against him. For this reason and this reason alone, when I heard that he was going to step behind the camera for Don Jon, I was not taken aback. Especially since Ben Affleck has done so with such gusto over the same time frame. Don Jon is a film with a plot that had every reason to have caricature characters not to be taken seriously. But one thing is for certain: Don Jon is very funny. And while the film doesn’t exactly stamp his arrival as a full-fledged director in the top-tier, it definitely is a nice step in the right direction toward making that happen.If there is one thing that Don Jon boasts, it is one hell of a cast that bring their own unique touch to each of its characters. Danza may have landed a role that shoots him up a 2008 Mickey Rourke type status. And along with the equally tremendous Headly playing Jon’s mom, they have family dinner scenes that reminded me a bit of Silver Linings Playbook in their top headedness and wit. Moore comes off as that scary already mentioned caricature type of an older cougar woman looking for a good time from a younger man at first. But what she delivers as fellow night school student Esther in the long run is a sort of life lesson for Jon that isn’t as clichéd as it sounds. Larson has a role that may seem under used at first, but a moment she has later on makes it a poignant one. Johansson, in a role that was written specifically for her, delivers one of the best performances I have seen her give in years. While it has been nice seeing her succeed on a comic book film level with The Avengers, Johansson seems more in her element playing Barbara, the Joisey gum popping princess that is the 10 the title character has been searching for. Dressed in ways that are begging to be ogled, Barbara no less comes off as the perfect girl for Jon (even being labeled so by Danza) and in many ways is. Her hard headedness is her advantage as she makes him work for sex. She makes him go back to school. And, in a fit of rage, breaks up with Jon when she catches him masturbating to porn.
Oh, did I not mention this plot point? That’s because I have yet to speak about Gordon-Levitt’s performance as the title character. About this performance, I will once again express that Don Jon’s strengths are its sharp script, as it won’t let Jon become anything other than nuanced and believable. Because, while he has a spotless apartment and a knack for picking up women at his will, he also lives a life that consists of him consuming & masturbating to internet porn at a sometimes alarming rate of 11 times a day. While his fantasies are being fulfilled, he is letting life pass him by. And, this is where Gordon-Levitt’s inner Nora Ephron comes to the surface. His exploration of the parallel between two different fantasies, those being his consumption of pornographic media and Barbara’s intake of romantic comedies, is an interesting one, and keeps Jon’s sometimes explicitly shown habit (Gordon-Levitt uses a cutaway shot of tissue thrown in a wastebasket more times than one can count) grounded in more of a reality.While Don Jon is very funny, Gordon-Levitt’s grounded style of writing and directing keep it, in my opinion, smarter than any Judd Apatow film. Exchanges between all the characters are not drawn out, and Gordon-Levitt keeps his rapid style of going from scene to scene a constant through the film’s entire 88 minute running time. His directing style and narrative can get a bit repetitive at times (working out, go to work, pick up women, repeat) and his soft Edgar Wright-type displaying of these habits can become tedious, but so can living a lonesome pleasure derived from fantasy life. Don Jon is a fantastic exploration of someone living this life. And while there are times it comes off as simply a reason to show off Gordon-Levitt’s buff through hard work bod, classy performances from Johansson, Danza and Moore, as well as consistently funny comedy, make this a can’t miss film.
4 out of 5