EXPECTATIONS: The last few years have seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt grow from a struggling actor escaping the chasm that swallows up most child actors and into a bona fide star. He's headlined half a dozen minor hits recently, and even been the lone saving grace of blockbuster disasters like the first G.I. Joe film. That said, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do behind the camera as a first-time writer/director.
You know you're not going to be Batman, don't you Joe?
REALITY: Few directorial debuts are as bluntly effective as what Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls off in Don Jon. While the film is not at all shy about addressing the titular character's addiction to internet porn, it makes up for its lewdness with a set of unique, if maybe one-dimensional, characters. At times, it feels like Gordon-Levitt has bitten off more than he can chew, but the end result is a great little film that gleefully skewers the media we consume and how it affects the way we relate to others.
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is your average, run-of-the-mill New Jersey stereotype. "There's only a few things I care about in life," he tells us. "My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn." For Jon, a typical night at the club means taking a girl home, getting laid, and then sneaking off to the living room to watch the professionals in action on his computer. He sees his internet porn less as an addiction and more like a hobby, even going so far as to suggest he prefers it to the real thing.
Enter the dreamgirl Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), for whom Jon is willing to give the extra time and attention in order to get into her pants. She tries to groom him into boyfriend material, but the ultimate sticking point in their relationship is Jon's relationship with PornHub. As Jon struggles with this, resorting to watching porn videos on his smartphone during class, he meets Esther (Julianne Moore), a classmate who thinks she can help with Jon's addiction, but is struggling with intimacy issues of her own.
Don Jon establishes a dichotomy between Jon and Barbara. While Jon gets lost in watching sex videos online, Barbara equally loses herself in Hollywood romantic comedies (the film even briefly shows us Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum acting out the broadest, goofiest rom-com imaginable). One is just as fake as the other, the film tells us, and both do considerable damage to how we define our relationships. Jon's porn has trained him to have unreasonable expectations in the bedroom; meanwhile, Barbara's movies have trained her to have unreasonable expectations about everything else.
The film even takes this idea a step further and plays up the artifice of its more romantic cliches. Obnoxiously saccharine music plays as Jon and Barbara go on dates, and anytime he catches a glimpse of her in public, he sees her in all of her slow-motion, Hollywood glory. And you know the scene in every romance where the two lovers spend their first night together, then the next day we see the guy basking in a musical haze (for example, another JGL movie)? That happens here as well, only not exactly the way you'd expect. Don Jon plays a number of subversive tricks, but that one is a beautifully subtle bit of storytelling.
The film does all of this to undercut its own darkness, much in the same way that It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia does with its sitcom trappings. And there is, indeed, a darkness underneath Don Jon's macho front. When Jon and his boys go out on the town, their banter almost exclusively consists of labeling women with numbers. "Look at that girl, she's a dime!" "No, she's an eight at best." All of these guys, so broken by whatever culture they've been soaking up, can't even relate to people through actual words. It's all numbers and awkward glances.
No, that doesn't mean you can up and join The Avengers instead.
And to that end, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Jon is the most eminently punchable character we've seen in a movie all year. It's amazing what a furrowed brow and a casual smirk can do to a person's face. If not for the film thoroughly unraveling his personality over the course of ninety minutes, this guy would be a completely insufferable character. And the rest of his family doesn't fare much better. His parents (Tony Danza, Glenne Headly) are a pair of squawking battle axes, and his sister (Brie Larson) does her best Silent Bob, quietly browsing her smartphone and contributing absolutely nothing until necessary.
In fact, if I'm going to compare this film to anything, it may as well be Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. As childish and awkwardly dated as that film may seem today, at its core is a story about breaking out of one mindset on relationships and deciding what makes sense in the here and now, labels be damned. The ultimate answer to Don Jon's dilemma is far less idiotic than the solution Smith cooked up, but it also seems a bit like Joseph Gordon-Levitt is moving the goalposts on his own conundrum.
The porn addiction is a symptom of a larger problem, and while Don Jon has plenty of fun breaking down Jon's issues, the third act introduces some ideas that don't quite jibe with the in-your-face style the film has been playing with from the opening credits. Still, they don't completely derail the film. Thank the gods of internet porn for that, because Don Jon is one of the most oddly endearing movies of the year.
|Scarlet Johannson's Jersey Accent||11/10|
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MINORITY REPORT: Hey Joe. How's it going? I saw you made a movie there, that's fun. Movies are good, making them is better, I respect that. Hey, listen, can you do me a favor, buddy to buddy? Can we cool it with the 'Good Vibrations' in every trailer? I mean it's embarrassing. I was a kid. I don't take out TV spots to run clips of you flapping your arms like a friggin' moron in Angels In The Outfield, so why would you do that to me? So just cool it, a'right? Okay. Good talk. Catch you later, let's watch the ballgame this weekend. - Marky "Mark" Wahlberg
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