Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Don Jon

Image courtesy of Relativity Media.
Joseph Gordon Levitt's directorial debut, "Don Jon," is a pretty ballsy movie for a first-time behind the camera effort for an actor, especially one who is relatively young. That's not to say that the film is without its faults, but you can't fault Levitt for lack of ambition.

The picture pokes fun at the mindset of a certain type of male. You might think I'm referring to the Jersey Shore type of guy that Levitt is obviously lampooning here, but that's not exactly it.

In the film, Jon is a lothario who easily picks up women from bars and brings them back to his home for one night stands. But what he truly prefers, as he tells us via voice over, is watching porn on his computer. Jon says that actual sex cannot compare, for him, to the fantasies involved with watching adult movies online.

Of course - since this is a romantic comedy, Jon meets a young woman who changes his mind about this addiction - at least, for a while. Her name is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), whom we, at first, find plucky before getting some reservations about her later on.

It's important to note the other lead characters in the film, including Jon's homebody mother (Glenne Headly), who is obsessed with her son settling down, his father (Tony Danza), who curses loudly at sports games on the television, wears a wife beater and comes across as the stereotypical father you'd expect to see in a film of this sort, and a sister, whose sole line in the movie includes some sage advice.

And then, there's Esther (Julianne Moore), a middle aged woman whom Jon meets during a night class that he is prompted to take by Barbara. I won't give away what role Esther serves, but let's just say that you might think the film is going in one direction before it veers off in a completely different one.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is its comparison of Jon's and Barbara's addictions. As I've mentioned before, Jon is into online smut. At one point in the picture, a character points out to Jon that his obsession with porn - as opposed to sex with a real woman - may have to do with the fact that he does not have to do anything for the women in the videos.

On the other side of the coin, there are Barbara's fantasies derived from watching schmaltzy Hollywood rom coms, which are satirized in a clever sequence involving Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. The film draws parallels between Jon's porn and Barbara's rom coms and dissects how both genres lead to unhealthy expectations in relationships.

"Don Jon" does not always work. I'm no prude, but the onslaught of graphic images and language during its first 30 minutes feels a bit forced as if the first-time director were trying to prove something - that his film has edge, perhaps. And several of the scenes between Jon and his family seem to fit deliberately into the mold of all ethnic families portrayed in onscreen comedies.

But the picture, on the whole, is a little more clever than you might think and the performances are all pretty solid. "Don Jon" is a solid directorial debut that takes risks, most of which pay off.

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