Don Jon (2013) / Comedy-Drama
aka Don Jon's Addiction
MPAA Rated: R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headley, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Brie Larson
Cameo: Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Cuba Gooding Jr., Meagan Good
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Screenplay: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Review published September 28, 2013
An impressive multifaceted effort for Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Lincoln, Looper), who not only stars in Don Jon, but he also directs from his own script. While I wouldn't proclaim it a great film as a whole, it is a great debut as a film creator for its star, as there are so many ways this material could have been done wrong, potentially tarnishing the good-guy appeal of Gordon-Levitt, one of the rare child stars who has made the transition to movie star into adulthood without being pigeonholed or gone off on a path of self destruction. Even if his film is one of the more sexually explicit R-rated films of the year (it was originally rated NC-17 in its initial Sundance cut), he still retains his friendly, good-guy image, which shows how adept Gordon-Levitt is in navigating the tightrope, skirting the edges without losing his box office appeal in the process.
Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon Martello Jr., a "Jersey Shore"-ish Italian-American living in New Jersey, where he works as a bartender. In his off time, he keeps it simple -- he works out, visits his family, he goes to church, he hangs out with his buddies, he beds the local ladies, and, most of all, he enjoys his porn. It doesn't affect his sex life, so he thinks there isn't any harm in it, but there is definitely something he gets from streaming a dirty video that he's not getting from the actual sex session he gets from the bevy of beauties he regularly beds. Jon thinks it a normal activity that every man engages in just as often, though problems do arise when he is caught by the one gal he thinks he might finally want a relationship from Barbara Sugarman (Johansson, Hitchcock), to whom he denies it and promises he will never do it again. But the erotic allure overwhelms him time and again.
It's a simple premise, and one might initially think that Gordon-Levitt wouldn't be able to find enough story angles from it in order to put together a full-length feature and keep it compelling throughout, but he pulls it off. It does take a while before the thematic material starts to gel, but it does, with such interesting concepts as the fantasy elements that one gleans from porn being akin to those that some get from such films as romances, Barbara's favorite pastime. Over consumption of both leads to single men and women continung to cycle through various partners, hoping to find that one that allows them the avenue for their narcissistic fantasies to come true.
Gordon-Levitt impresses in his writing most of all, which pushes forward some good moments of incisive wit, subtle emotional content, and fun characterizations that, while they don't avoid falling into stereotypes, set up the mix of comedy and drama well without losing the overall punchy tone. Though it is quite raunchy in its dialogue and the film features a great deal of sexual content and nudity, Don Jon avoids the label of prurient sex farce due to Gordon-Levitt exploring the issues of sexuality without resorting to using it solely as a crutch for easy titillation. Though it features many images one might associate with smut, somehow it avoids smutty labels, as its writer-director finds some gems of truth underneath the facade to be able to comment on the false nature of pornography and its superficial appeal for those who are clearly not ready for relationships of any perceptible depth.
At its core, Don Jon is really about how entertainment, whether adult sex clips or seemingly innocuous fairy tales, feeds the minds of people who go off searching for that perfect relationship where they can absolutely be themselves while also expecting their partners to be who they want them to be at all times. Indelible images are planted in the mind of how one wishes life could be like, and these images often get in the way of being able to progress in life because no one can come close to the fantasy one has in the mind on who they want to partner with and how they should always behave. Whether turning the spotlight on Jon's porn, his girlfriend's storybook romances, his dad's rabid sports fanaticism, or his sister's pervasive cell phone obsession, Don Jon is a witty, and surprisingly poignant, indictment on the addictive and often obstructive nature of seemingly harmless escapism.
©2013 Vince Leo