Movie Review: Don Jon

IMDB, Don JonComedy/Drama, 90 Minutes, 2013: “Don Jon” on IMDB

Joseph Gordon-Levitt [IMDB] has made a remarkable transition from television child-actor to featured roles in many critically-acclaimed blockbusters. While luck has likely played a part, there’s no doubting his talent in front of the camera.  “Don Jon” is his writing/directing debut. With an excellent A-list cast, he also stars.

Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a good Italian Catholic New Jersey boy. Via a series of surprisingly palatable internal monologues we learn about him and how he sees life. Most films use such narration as a crutch, and that’s true here to an extent, but this felt more natural; as if the audience were just another buddy to chat with. He loves his car and his apartment. He hates bad drivers and dirt. He works out, visits his parents and basically has a good bead on things.

He does exceedingly well with the ladies but just isn’t getting much out of his sex life. You see, Don is an aficionado of pornography. Real women are great, but they’re so damn complicated! They have hangups and conditions; preferences and needs. Porn is always there for him, always ready to do whatever he needs. Porn never needs reciprocation. Porn is pure.

This could have taken the easy, “porn is evil”, path and won  easy points with a lot of people. While porn doesn’t come of well, it’s far from vilified. Instead, and more realistically, it’s treated almost as another relationship for Jon to navigate. One that may not be complex by itself, but one that creates complexity nonetheless.

It is disappointing that many of the points raised against actual woman are so contrived. Jon tells us about his many one-night-stands, but bemoans the fact that “real girls” only like missionary and won’t do anything adventuresome. We see women that are happy to dry-hump in their apartment hallways but are shocked and revolted by the mere idea of pornography. The central ideas of the movie doesn’t hinge on these points, but they still ring cheaply.

The relationships Jon embarks on explore many themes. The most important are selfishness, honesty and compromise. Yes, Porn does change what men expect from women, but does it also change what they’re willing to put up with from them? How much should you change for somebody you love? More importantly if you need to change, is it really love? Jon’s realizations are mirrored wonderfully in his regular confessional visits and how his reactions to the rote penance change.

Technically there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Staging, direction, lighting, casting – everything demonstrates clear understanding and a level of skill unexpected from a first time director. Uneven pacing is a common shortfall of new (and old) directors, but this moves crisply and with purpose. A lack of confidence often results in broad, overly-patronizing exposition dumps for first-time writers, but this is avoided as well. Gordon-Levitt is either really good or able to fake it by surrounding himself with really good people. Either way he clearly has a bright future.

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