That's some good jerkin'
Our rabid consumption of media informs our lives and habits as much as our upbringing. For Jon, that media obsession is porn. When he isn't debating what number to rate a girl at the club, he is masturbating three times a day. Or five. Or eleven, a brand new record.
Sex is boring to Jon, who craves the fantasy and control of porn. It`s an inherently controversial, funny, and poignant concept for a film, and Don Jon succeeds at all three. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes the rare crossover from actor to actor-writer-director that many try but few succeed at.
[This review was originally posted as part of our Sundance 2013 coverage. Since its initial publication, the film was renamed Don Jon and screened at SXSW 2013. Edits have been made to reflect the title change, as well as Geoff's blurb for the film.]
Jon lives in an era of the transparency of porn. Hard cocks and jiggling boobs are shown in detail and freely available every waking hour on the internet. Sexual suggestion is now reserved for TV ads of a girl in tank top eating a cheeseburger while almost but not quite having an orgasm. Don Jon is a tool, a Guido, a chump, to be dismissed on first glance. Yet, Gordon-Levitt makes him a likeable guy and a sympathetic victim of his environment.
Jon would fit right in with the cast of Jersey Shore, but somehow his machismo is endearing, calling to mind John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Rocky. He`s self-centered but not without heart. Wanting to discover a new plateau in his sex life (excluding porn), Jon courts ("long-term game") Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), an inarguable "diamond" according to Jon. Though he can`t see the point of romantic films any better than his older female friend (Julianne Moore) can see the point of him watching porn, Jon surprises himself with the lengths he goes to win this girl over. In the end, the sex is just sex -- a far cry from his coveted porn collection.
Gordon-Levitt gives Don Jon a repetitive rhythmic pace in both editing and scripting. Sequences of porn browsing, club encounters, and road rage repeat throughout the film, mirroring the loud energetic but ultimately monotonous music blaring at the clubs Jon frequents. The camera work is also accelerated, often circling around scenes with great speed. The persistent use of music paints a strange mood around the film, blending hyper club anthems with a traditional string score and electronic glitch effects.
Don Jon is a familiar love story that never feels like one. After all, it's a film about a narcissistic macho man who falls in love with sex. What makes Don Jon so great is the personality Gordon-Levitt brings to his material in both direction and performance. Undeterred, Gordon-Levitt examines porn's effect on society while keeping the film innocent and insightful.
Geoff Henao: Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing/directorial debut with the fascinating Don Jon. While still fundamentally a romantic comedy, Gordon-Levitt touches on much deeper themes, such as the "stereotypical" portrayal of masculinity and how men feel as if they have to live up to such expectations, as well as a look at unrealistic depictions of sex in porn and how "real" sex is nowhere like the fantasy sex displayed online. However, Gordon-Levitt uses comedy and humor to address these issues. What results is a smart (probably the smartest) rom-com that isn't heavy-handed.
Sometimes, the move from being in front of the camera to behind the camera can be hard, but with Gordon-Levitt's many years in the business, the transition was fine-tuned. From the editing to the acting to the script, Don Jon just feels like a labor of love. I hope and pray Gordon-Levitt acts for the rest of his life, but if he ever does decide to permanently move behind the camera, Don Jon is proof that he'll be perfectly fine in the director's seat. 85 -- Exceptional