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Don Jon - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Don Jon
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

I's not so often a longstanding, successful actor proves to be such a competent writer and director, right out of the gate. Granted, "right out of the gate" is somewhat misleading given the several shorts Joseph Gordon-Levitt has directed, but Don Jon is still an impressive debut feature film, presented with justifiable pride and confidence.

This is a story that is funny, poignant and layered; the rare comedy with depth and humanity. It's easy not to expect such things when viewing the trailer, which lends it an air of silliness and an eye-rolling amount of sexuality. The film does indeed prove to be packed wall to wall with sexuality, if only a fair amount of actual sex -- but Gordon-Levitt handles it with a delicate and assured hand. There are sexual scenes with subtly disquieting desperation, and others with an unusual level of tender sweetness. In someone else's hands, this movie could have been downright embarrassing. Here, it is totally absorbing, and, in its way, lovely.

What's more, Don Jon bucks stereotypes at every turn. All the characters have thick New Jersey accents and yet -- gasp! -- they are fully realized human beings, not one of them reduced to vapid idiots. Not even the ones who want to live like vapid idiots. And the movie itself somehow manages to tackle very sexual themes, and even the idea of addiction, without ever becoming exploitative.

Jon, the title character (played wonderfully by Gordon-Levitt himself), is obsessed with porn. It's truly refreshing to see a movie like this where no one even uses the word "addicted," and the character never finds himself in a twelve-step program. He takes a different path to self-realization, one that is still perfectly plausible. The writing here is well assured; you never really know where the story is headed.

It's a delightful journey, with most of the humor sprinkled liberally in the details. Jon's loud, yet loving, Italian family is perfectly cast with Tony Danza as his dad; Glenne Headly as his mom; and particularly Brie Larson as his younger sister, in spite of her having only one line. That line has great impact, however, and she gets many of the laughs throughout the rest of the film, as the quiet-yet-self-absorbed teenager who is constantly texting at the table and at church.

Scarlett Johansson steps in as Jon's primary love interest, who turns out to be not all she's cracked up to be, in all the best ways. Barbara is a little bit like the female version of a douchebag -- a fascinating turn for the likes of Johansson -- using her outrageous hotness as a manipulative tool to get Jon to do whatever she wants. She catches him watching porn and this causes a problem; Jon, who is so enamored with porn that he watches it even right after his many real-life sexual conquests, actually attempts to stop watching it. Then he starts up again but lies to her about it. And yet, there is so much more to this relationship than this one triggering thing. In one brilliantly written scene, the two of them have an argument in a housewares store about whether Jon should be doing his own cleaning. Jon enjoys doing his own cleaning; Barbara proves to be a little pathological in her belief that housework is to be done by hired help.

Barbara even manages to convince Jon to take a night class in order to get a more respectable job. We never learn what the class is exactly or what the career goal would specifically be, but it doesn't matter. It's in this class that, out of the blue, Jon meets an older woman who throws a monkey wrench into the whole story. At first this character, Esther (Julianne Moore), almost feels like an alien invasion in this story, but she slowly wriggles her way into being indispensable to it. Esther is Barbara's opposite, open to the point of being off-putting; she even acknowledges having seen Jon watch porn on his phone.

If this were a regular Hollywood movie, where it goes from here would be easy to predict: infidelity; hurt feelings; reconciliation -- maybe even a fight between these two women somewhere in the mix. One of many great decisions Gordon-Levitt makes is to avoid any scenes at all with both of these women together. Instead we have a man who is both a lothario and ignorant of the way sex should be; he even thinks the sex in the porn he watches is somehow real. Barbara reacts to this interest with disgust; Esther just laughs at his naïveté, though without judgment.

Meanwhile, Jon goes to mass weekly, where he confesses his regular "sins" of sex out of wedlock and constant porn watching, only to be absolved every time -- thereby highlighting the ridiculousness of the whole endeavor. Gordon-Levitt thankfully avoids telegraphing anything directly to his audience, so the scene in which it could be argued Jon loses his faith while sitting in the confessional is clearly open to interpretation. That was just how I saw it. If nothing else, Jon's eyes are opening to challenges to supposed truths.

It's nice to see this happening with a character like Jon, which would normally just be characterized as a cad deserving of some sort of comeuppance. Here, in fact, that applies more to Barbara -- but only in terms of character; there's no slut shaming here either. I cannot stress enough how respectfully this movie treats sexuality of both sexes, which alone truly sets it apart. In fact, these two characters are both slave to unrealistic fantasy worlds: for Jon it's porn; for Barbara it's ridiculous romantic comedies in which the men are idealized visions of male perfection. (Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway have cameos in an amusing montage of one of these movies.)

As such, Don Jon is a smart comedy presented with informed clarity, something that only comes along once in a great while. It's an exciting start for the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a director, making us look forward with great interest to his future output.

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are mutually misguided conquests in DON JON.</a>

Overall: A-
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