Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson
Plot: Don Jon (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) is a porn addict, who finds that his addiction is getting in the way of having a relationship and finding true happiness.
When a new director casts himself as the lead in his own film, everyone kind of assumes that a fair piece of arrogance and selfishness is at play, especially when that lead role happens to have him making out with attractive ladies for most of the running time. However, when that person is as genuinely talented as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then you don’t mind in the slightest.
It helps that Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns out to be a really fresh and exciting director. It starts off with a montage of pop culture flashing before us, slowly transforming into pornography. The entire movie is played loud and fast, so we are never getting tired of what we are seeing on the screen. We jump from every aspect of Jon’s life, from his church confessions (his get out of jail free card), his road rage moments and, of course, his obsession with watching porn. Seeing as Don Jon takes on some adult material, it helps that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is able to portray these themes with maturity and subtlety. Another directorial trick that I liked was the ‘Kill Bill-esque’ music playing whenever Don Hon locked eyes with a female target in a club. His script is also pretty much bang-on with every aspect. Joseph Gordon Levitt never seems too concerned with his image, which is why he is able to make jokes about pornography viewing that actually hit the nail on the head a lot. In fact, we leave this movie liking him a lot more, because he is able to truthfully portray the seedier parts of life, without shame or restraint.
I also liked how the script seemed to be an alternative take on the rom-coms that made him famous. This movie is all about pornography representing unrealistic representations in women. However, I enjoyed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt turned this around and gave the same messages to women. Scarlett Johansson’s character (just when I thought I couldn’t fall in love the actress any harder!), has an unrealistic expectation in men. It starts off subtle with her character freaking out when she realises her stereotypical jock of a boyfriend actually has a thing for cleaning. She instantly tries to erase that side of Jon’s life. Her view of men is also symbolised when she falls in love with a chick-flick in the cinema. While porn and the media might be sexualising and creating impossible heights for women to reach, Don Jon suggests that it is doing the same for men, creating needy girlfriend figures like Barbara Sugarman. I think it was a good message to throw in, as it made the movie feel much more well-rounded. One of the best things about Johansson’s performance, and the direction, is that when you first watch the first date, outside of the club, Barbara Sugarman, comes off as direct and sexy. She is very blunt with what she wants and it makes her even more attractive. However, on a second watch, when you realize that the character isn’t as perfect as she thinks she is, the direct nature of her dialect feels rude, and it becomes difficult to figure out why you even fell for her in the first place. That is a subtle trick, and one rather tricky to pull off.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt might excel as a director and be a master when it comes to writing scripts, but let’s not forget his acting. Don Jon is a pretty nasty character, yet Levitt makes us invest in the character. He gives us brief insights into his thought process, so we can see he is trying to change deep down and that most of his negative qualities come from his surroundings. His macho exterior and frustration comes for a male-orientated home life. His need to have the hottest women around stems from trying to impress his friends. While there are moments we cannot help but hate Don Jon, like when he ignores fellow class mate in need, Esther, but thanks to a terrific performance by Levitt, he is the kind of person we don’t necessarily want to see punished. Everyone else puts in a good effort, even if Levitt keeps the focus fixed on Don Jon. Julianne Moore makes the third act, but we could have done with more development earlier on. I was excited to see Brie Larson in this movie (especially after falling in love with Short Term 12), but she does very little here, her talent wasted. She does get one piece of dialogue that she absolutely makes the most of, although I wanted to see more of the actress.
Final Verdict: A fantastic director’s debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not afraid to tackle tricky topics and convey a social message to the audience.