Don Jon Review
by Daniel Rester
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown to become one of the top talents of his generation as far as film acting is concerned. But the likable actor goes beyond just being in front of the camera, from creating the site hitRECord.com to now writing and directing his first feature. But not just any first feature. This debut film is Don Jon, a comedy-drama about a Guido who is addicted to pornography. Gordon-Levitt has made an audacious choice here, and I’m glad to report that it pays off.
Jon has a fairly simple set-up. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a fit, Italian male who only cares about a few things in his life, like his family, his church, his body, and his porn. Especially that last one. Even after meeting a “dime” named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, laying on a thick Jersey accent) and falling for her, he still finds it difficult to shake his addiction to porn. Some of the side plots and ideas involve Jon’s sister (Brie Larson, who has one great moment) never talking and Jon attending a night class, where he meets an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore).
Even when Gordon-Levitt falls back on clichés (Glenne Headly is essentially a walking stereotype of an Italian mother as Don’s mother) and repetitive montages in Jon, he still has a flare and bravery to his work that helps keep it alive. It’s also amazing how Gordon-Levitt manages to deliver many laughs in a light way through his writing, even when a few of the characters are quite dislikable. But, finally, it’s the weight and maturity, applied in surprising ways, of the final act that makes the film really hit home.
Helping to really add to the emotional resonance of that final stretch is Moore, who always knows how to apply just the right amount of heartache to a character. She is perhaps best in the film, with her and Gordon-Levitt sharing one memorable scene, but the rest of the cast is strong here as well. Gordon-Levitt himself presents his usual charm and humanity, despite playing more of a “dick” character at times than he usually does. Johansson is impressive as well (despite the too-heavy accent), and Tony Danza is funny as Jon’s football-loving, foulmouthed dad.
Actors-turned-directors tend to focus mostly on performances when first getting their feet wet in being behind the camera, but Gordon-Levitt applies a respectable amount of attention to the aesthetics of the film as well. The film looks smooth, makes good use of its environments, and delivers a few fine editing tricks. Gordon-Levitt never tries to dazzle too much as director, but he adds such things to bring a little zip to the material – and it works out well.
Jon isn’t a perfect film, as it could have used some more character development for side characters and some polishing during the post-production process. But it is an entertaining and bold debut, yet obviously not for all tastes. Still, the skill and maturity Gordon-Levitt applies at times makes me look forward to what he’ll cook up next as a writer-director.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+)