September 27, 2013

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Meets 'Don Jon'

Child actor turned writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his filmmaking debut with a wickedly subversive comedy about pornography and romance (on the surface, anyway). Tinged with a Jersey Shore bent, Don Jon takes on society's unrealistic expectations of sex, love, and relationships influenced by popular culture. Underneath it all, the film is be a dirty, seedy commentary on human behaviour, our perception of masculinity and struggling to make genuine connections.

Gordon-Levitt plays a seemingly one-dimensial New Jersey meathead bartender. The titular Jon Martello's life is a circle of complusive routine and the film plays as a series of repeating scenes. His problem is he prefers pornography and masturbation over actual sex with a real-life woman. He doesn't understand quite why.

We're bombarded with clips of online pornography and sexual images throughout the film as Jon indulges. These images are contrasted with a few diverse female characters and the less graphic scenes of sexuality we see everyday. This execution rests on the confident shoulders of Gordon-Levitt's confident performance and direction. The writing tries to and adequately underplays the more repulsive, cartoon-like qualities of Jon's life and attitudes towards women.

Don Jon features a fairly eclectic cast. Scarlett Johannson's gum chewing Barbara is introduced amusingly enough as a strong woman, but quickly becomes a caricature with few redeeming qualities. "She's a princess." She doesn't believe any good man would watch porn yet eats up fairytale romances like candy. Tony Danza's Jon Sr. is a hilarious brutish, equally sex and football obsessed father.

Once Jon and Barbara's superficial relationship runs its course, Gordon-Levitt explores some offbeat relationship dynamics and ideas of love through a troubled older woman he meets played by Julianne Moore. She's everything Barbara isn't and through her, he finds who he really is and what he wants from life beyond sex and self-gratification.

Don Jon is an admirable, interesting debut film. It goes into themes never seen in more conventional comedies, but lacks compelling turning point. It also fumbles with its female characters while trying to slyly comment on society's overall depiction of women. Gordon-Levitt clearly has a lot of ideas and ambitions as he's created a mostly pleasing, compelling comedy about sex and pornography addiction.

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