Review: Don Jon

Don Jon's Addiction-345.cr2

Fantasies are the only way people can stay sane, for anything outside the real world is how we keep ourselves entertained or distracted. Of course, investing oneself too deeply in that fantasy risks confusing it with reality. We see this permeating through society in many forms of entertainment, be they social media, video games, or films. The difference between the expectations in both fantasy and reality is the gulf that Joseph Gordon-Levitt navigates in his directorial debut, Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt has learned much from working with several reputable directors over the years, so while Don Jon is admittedly charming and eager to please, its satirical perspective never quite rises above the cliches and stereotypes it seeks to deconstruct.

The title character of Jon, also played by Gordon-Levitt, professes to care about several things in life, but all of his passions are superficial. The only thing that, well, gets him off is pornography. Jon makes no mistake in knowing that his addiction to porn is because of its deliberate lack of realism. However, because of this obsession, everything else, even relationships, are secondary. Jon is certainly chiseled enough that he could take home any woman he wants, and he certainly does, but their midnight adventures never come close to the hyperbolized filth that he can find in his web browser’s history. Eventually, Jon decides to try committing to a serious relationship, pursuing a woman named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) whom he’d danced with at the club. The two naturally gravitate to each other, but both become more of an item than actual couple, weighing the expectations of each other against their own character flaws. Jon makes sacrifices for Barbara, such as pursuing higher education, but when she discovers his addiction to porn, their relationship is thrown into jeopardy.

The trajectory of Don Jon isn’t terribly surprising, but Jon’s shallow qualities keep from him being a completely empathetic character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings the expected swagger, but Jon can’t help but come off as completely two dimensional. The same can be said for his family, and so the performances from Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Brie Larson are rendered as caricatures of the Jersey Italian family. In a shortened comedy sketch this might work, but for a feature, few characters are fleshed out, thus making it difficult to care about anyone. Granted, once the film arrives at its third act, then the narrative is truly able to explore subtleties in its theme, largely brought out by college classmate Esther (Julianne Moore), thus completing Jon’s arc in a legitimately satisfying way. Scarlett Johansson is also worth singling out, naturally nailing the Jersey persona as well as her own character’s delusions about romance.

As a director, Gordon-Levitt’s debut is solid, if displaying some drawbacks that come from first time efforts by actors. He’s anxious to pull out every cinematic trick in the bag, from rapid fire editing, to wild camera movement and a punchy soundtrack, but not all of the elements cohere consistently. Where in some cases the kinetic editing serves Jon’s personality, it also can become overbearing and lacking in subtlety. The cinematography is a bit of a mixed bag as well, with uninspired lighting and some shots that feel more motivated by aesthetics than by narrative. The film certainly isn’t a technical disaster, but its clear that Gordon-Levitt has some room for improvement. The best that can be said of Don Jon is that unlike so many romantic comedies churned out by studios, it is far from an empty experience. There may be issues with character development and technical execution, but no Hollywood film would dare to take on subject matter this consistently raunchy for the core of its conflict. Don Jon may have nasty things on its mind, but its heart is in the right place.


~ by romancinema on September 28, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: