Don Jon
Other // R // September 27, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted September 26, 2013
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Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has starred in a wide variety of motion pictures. He's well-known for his devilish good-looks and impressive talent in a variety of different characters. In 2013, he's writing and directing his first full-length feature named Don Jon, while putting himself in the lead role. After touring numerous film festivals, it has obtained a lot of positive feedback from both critics and audiences. Many moviegoers wondered what inspired the filmmaker to pursue the subject matter of pornography. In an interview, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was inspired by this concept when he was smoking weed with Seth Rogen. It all suddenly makes sense! I can't help but love when writers tell the secrets to their concept-making process. This isn't one of his best features, but it's a solid debut for him in the writing and director roles.

A New Jersey man named Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has received his nickname Don Jon due to the fact that he's able to sleep with a different beautiful woman every weekend. His life is dedicated to a simple list compiled of his family, friends, and church. However, he has developed an unhealthy obsession with watching porn online. This has ultimately left him with unrealistic expectations from sex with a real person. On one fateful night, he meets a beautiful woman named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). This is the first woman he has ever needed to work for, which only adds to his attraction to her. This forces him to fight to find happiness and intimacy with the woman he may potentially be in love with.

Fortunately, the filmmaker is clearly very confident in his vision from the very first scene until the credits begin rolling. There's a very coherent direction that is followed very strictly. It balances the genres of comedy and drama well. Even when the film's material becomes more serious, he never forgets to incorporate humor. It doesn't hurt that his screenplay is fairly solid. The dialogue can be quite sly and witty, which makes for quite a few good laughs. The beginning of Don Jon introduces us to the main character's weekly routine. Jon has a short temper and often acts pretty immature, yet he still has a certain charm that makes him likable. He's a very troubled individual with some intriguing character elements. Underneath his tough guy exterior, Jon is a good person. Before we get the chance to learn very much about him, the status quo of his routine is broken by Barbara. Jon can't seem to get her out of his mind. However, this relationship is the least of his problems, as he's in absolute denial of his obsession with pornography.

One might find some of the plot's developments to be repetitive, but they're intended to display the progressive changes that are taking place in Jon's life. The film's 90-minute running time goes by quick, especially due to the movie's fast pace. Audiences won't be bored for a single moment. However, I would have liked for it to have gone deeper into the relationship between Jon and Barbara. Don Jon has such a heavy focus on the lead character's porn obsession, that it doesn't give us the opportunity to learn very much about Barbara. Most of her character development is created while she isn't even on screen, since Jon talks about her a lot. While we understand the dynamic of their relationship, the plot would have had a stronger effect if it placed the audience in the middle of their bond. Regardless of the movie's predictability, it will take you on a journey that will have you laughing.

Don Jon tries to be quite a bit more than just a dramedy. It actively criticizes porn in all of its forms. The X-rated videos aren't the film's only target, but also Hollywood films and raunchy commercials. Even though they aren't showing as much, they all have the same messaging. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also juxtaposes pornographic content with romantic Hollywood flicks. These goals have most certainly been achieved, as the social commentary is clear. However, he's successful in this through his comedic approach. Unfortunately, some of the same jokes are recycled a few times throughout. While these gags still do what they're meant to do, there could have been a greater variety of jokes. The dramatic aspects of the picture are on point, but they're most successful through the end of the second act and into the third. This screenplay isn't perfect, but it works fairly well.

Since this actor/writer/director has already been in the entertainment industry for quite some time, he was able to score a great cast. It generally bothers me when filmmakers cast themselves in the main role of their pictures, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a wonderful job with this character. He's entirely believable in both his comedic delivery, as well as his ability to be compelling through the dramatic sequences. Scarlett Johansson delivers a solid performance in the role of Barbara. Her accent, attitude, and body language are spot-on for this character. She does a phenomenal job with displaying the nature of Barbara's relationship with Jon. As expected, Julianne Moore is excellent as Esther. This role is rather intriguing, and Moore brings her to life.

With this feature fitting into the drama and comedy categories, it doesn't call for any big special effects. However, the cinematography and the editing are interesting. The movie employs an interesting color palette that is based upon Jon's emotional state at each individual point in the story. There is a lot of quick montage editing throughout the running time. Even when the characters are having a serious conversation, we're seeing what Jon is thinking about in that moment. As expected, he's constantly thinking about porn. Editor Lauren Zuckerman has exceptional timing with these quick-cut montages.

Congratulations to Joseph Gordon-Levitt for his debut in the writing and director roles! While he could still certainly work on these crafts a bit more, he continues to impress. The movie's social commentary on different forms of pornography all around us is strong, and he still manages to put forth an engaging character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt incorporates comedy into nearly every scene throughout the running time, but he still provides worthwhile material on the dramatic side of things. This portion of the film could have easily become sappy, but it serves as character development for Jon rather than as a plot device. This doesn't quite live up to the hype heard from film festivals, but it's a funny motion picture well-worth seeing. Don Jon certainly has the confidence needed for this funny, yet slightly-sentimental film. Recommended.

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