Let me say right now that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is incredible. Not only did he manage to become even more famous after being a child star, but his passion for art and performance and the launch of the hitRECord website and forthcoming television series is an inspiration. He proved his street cred with indie films like Brick but then became a mainstream star after hits like (500) Days of Summer, Inception, and 50/50.
So in his directorial debut Don Jon, can he succeed in front of and behind the camera?
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a Jersey-born and raised average guy who has found himself in a loop of meaningless flings and his world gets turned upside down when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a perfect 10 in his book. The only problem with this, is that Jon has a crippling addiction to pornography that creates a huge fissure between the two of them. Can he give up one, to keep the other?
I have to applaud that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has tackled such a taboo topic, which isn’t often confronted like this in mainstream media. Pornography is often used in comedies as a source for jokes, but it isn’t often portrayed as a troubling addiction, so it’s an interesting perspective. Using this concept has allowed Gordon-Levitt to not only craft an interesting story but he’s able to dissect and look at where this issue intersects with religion, friendships, family, and if pornography can (or should) exist in a meaningful relationship.
There’s a lot to take away from this story, I think for both men and women. I think it might be jarring for some viewers because it opens up with a very honest look at how pornography affects Jon and it doesn’t shy from brutal accuracy. The movie tends to objectify women in the opening half but it really gets interesting once our lead character has his values shaken and sometimes destroyed and rebuilt. As a character piece, this movie was fantastic. How can a man so obsessed with pornography find love in the real world? It’s fascinating.
As a director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt succeeds with creating a visually engaging story here, using tons of fast and interesting cuts. In the opening scenes, Jon lists all the things he cares about in this world, and the movie cleverly rotates through this list and reminds us of his priorities. For instance, he lists that he cares about his car, so we regularly get scenes of him just driving around town. Or about his apartment, so he see him cleaning or vacuuming. These snippets don’t contribute to the forward story arc, but they still serve a purpose of focusing on what’s important to Jon, even in the midst of an emotional roller coaster that is his life.
And as an actor, Gordon-Levitt is a character that we haven’t seen him do before. Halfway through, I was even contemplating how different Jon was, compared to movies like 50/50 or even Looper. He’s nothing, if not versatile.
What doesn’t work?
The only thing you need to know is that this movie is about sex, first and foremost. This movie pushes the boundaries of its R rating, so don’t go into this if you’re squeamish or if tackling the topic of pornography is going to make you feel uncomfortable. Go in with an open mind and remember that it’s a character-centric story.
Don Jon surprised me in its brutally honest confrontation about pornography but did so in a meaningful way that asks some really intense questions about how that might affect one’s real-life relationships. Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to balance that serious topic with some incredibly witty writing, to make the tale a little more accessible. Both Gordon-Levitt and Johansson are fantastic, alongside great performances by Tony Danza and Julianne Moore as well. Great movie, as long as you understand what the movie is about before you go in.