MOVIE REVIEW | Don Jon (2013)

Over the last decade, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has emerged as one of the biggest names in Hollywood.  And he did the right way.  He could have gone straight from sitcom kid, to dodgy teen comedy.  Well, he did do that, but luckily he learnt his lesson from 10 Things I Hate About You, then disappeared for years, playing small roles in small movies, earning his stripes and learning his craft.  Then he popped up as the lead in the ever growing cult classic Brick in 2005.  There were little seen things like Stop Loss, The Lookout and Mysterious Skin.  Until he hit the big leagues with Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.  He even built up enough goodwill for audiences to politely look the other way and pretend trash like GI Joe and Premium Rush never happened.  And now, his inevitable and total domination of Hollywood takes its next step, with his screenwriting and directorial debut, Don Jon.

Not content to just write and direct, JGL gives himself the lead role as well, Jon, a porn obsessed guido from New Jersey.  He spends his nights in clubs with his friends, rating women, before going home with a different one each night.  But only if she scores as an 8 or higher.  One night, he spots a perfect 10, Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara.  He works harder than ever before to bed her and even gives up his skirt chasing, casual sex ways.  But the one thing he can’t give up, is porn.

I’m sure their performances as Jon and Barbara are very true to life and authentic to the region, but the thick accents and exaggerated swagger of both Gordon-Levitt and Johannson veer close to being characters in a sketch.  Everyone in this movie is so over the top in their New Jerseyness, Paulie Wallnuts from The Sopranos, would say, “Madon !  Hey T, you want I should wack these bukiaks for making fun of the way we talk?  Forgettaboutit.”

Don Jon also takes us through the never ending weekly cycle of Jon’s life.  Gym, road rage filled car trip, church, confession, Sunday lunch with the family, night school…  Second verse, same as the first.  While taking night classes, Don meets Esther (Juliannae Mooore), a middle aged woman with a tragic back story who might just be exactly what he needs to grow up and take the next step in life.

The endless cycle of Jon’s life is a nice touch and a good filmic device for Gordon-Levitt to reiterate the dissatisfaction of Jon’s life and emptiness of his porn addiction.  But it’s a rookie director mistake to smash the audience over the head with as much as he does.  It’s like he kept coming up with different ways to represent this never ending loop, but instead of choosing the best one, he just piled them all on top of each other.  The church confession and Sunday lunch with the family already say everything he needs to say and make his point, all the rest is just unnecessary.

And when the big moments of emotional growth and character development predictably and awkwardly stumble out at the end like a new born foal, I have a feeling Gordon-Levitt thought he was saying something really deep about love, relationships, addiction and maturity.  But it all seemed slight, inconsequential and unearned.

On the plus side, the film making is very assured, confident and more than serviceable.  He knows how to frame a shot, block a scene and tell a story.  The only problem is, there’s not much of a story to tell.  Maybe next time, he should leave the screenplay to someone else.

Don Jon
Directed By – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written By – Joseph Gordon-Levitt



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