Director/Writer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headley, Brie Larson
A day in the life of Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) consists of porn, the gym, porn, clubbing, hooking up with some gorgeous blonde, and more porn to close out the night. On Sundays he adds church, confession, and family dinner to his schedule. He is your typical Guido type character with the thick Jersey accent, slicked back hair, muscular, Italian, and very much the ladies’ man. On the other hand, I would say that he is far smarter than your average Guido you would find on some annoying reality show.
Jon loves his porn but has grown so accustomed to his porn sites that he does not feel the same release or sexual charge after being with a woman. Sure, he likes the "10s" he scores in the clubs, but he never quite feels as satisfied as he does after a few clicks of the mouse. After one particular night at his favorite club, he meets Barbara Sugarman (Johansson) who is basically a goddess in his eyes. She is no lady of the night as he has to fight quite hard to actually pursue a date with her. Jon's mother (Headley) couldn't be happier by the fact that her son is finally bringing a smart and pretty girl home. His dad (Danza) is also taken by surprise and practically hits on her the moment he lays eyes on her. They start dating only to face an interesting hiccup in their expectations.
While Jon is obsessed with porn, Barbara views her life as one big romantic comedy like the ones starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. Barbara catches Jon watching porn one night after they have sex and she is revolted at the idea of her man watching something so degrading. Jon convinces her it was a one-time thing and that he "never" watches porn. Jon struggles with the idea of reducing the amount of porn he watches while trying to keep it a secret from her. Meanwhile in his night class, he meets Esther (Moore) who may just be the sexual and relationship mentor he needs to challenge his preconceived notions.
What is fantastic about Gordon-Levitt taking over much of the creative process is that he could cast his fellow actor friends in roles that they would never get cast in. I have not seen every one of his movies, but Jon is far different than the other roles I have seen him play. He specifically wrote the role of Barbara for Johansson and gets her out of her norm as well. I am growing into more and more of a “ScarJo” fan with each movie she appears in. Within the past few years, we have seen her as Woody Allen’s muse in three movies, as Janet Leigh, a zookeeper, and has kicked ass in a couple of the Marvel movies. She continues to excel here, and you can tell she is having quite a bit of fun with Barbara. Is anyone else excited by the Angels in the Outfield reunion between Gordon-Levitt and Tony Danza? That baseball hit was played on repeat in my house when I was growing up. If only Christopher Lloyd could have made an appearance as well. When was the last time we even saw Danza on the big screen? This is another role, like Jon and Barbara, where another director or studio would never have given a thought to Danza playing this character. Larsen (The Spectacular Now, Short-Term 12) is quite funny as Jon’s sister who is constantly buried in her phone. I know that type of person all too well. To cap of this ensemble is the incomparable Julianne Moore. I swear to God, every movie she is in is that much stronger just by having her presence in it. Maybe it is my bias toward her, but I could not picture another actress in this role.
If you read any interview with him, Gordon-Levitt is bound and determined to make it clear the film is not about porn. The original title of the movie was "Don Jon's Addiction", and I'm glad he made the choice to take that word out. Yes, porn plays its particular part in the movie. It is easy to just dub it as the porn movie, but he uses porn and romantic comedies as the catalysts behind how Jon and Barbara view their relationships. They both go in expecting the other person to fill some sort of fantasy character or ideal image we want our partner to have based on the busty blonde or handsome leading man we envision. Relationships seem to be new for these characters that seem to live very independently. They are both hesitant to allow and accept the other person’s needs or habits into their lives.
I have been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt for quite some time now. He has really become a fantastic young actor ready to take on any genre, style, or A-List director. He was in four very different yet strong movies in 2012, two of which (The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln) were in my Top 10. Here he decided to make his directorial debut as well as write and play the title character. That is no easy feat, especially to tackle all three so early on in his career. He wears the director hat well as he makes very distinct choices in style and tone. Whether they are the repeated tones of the computer starting up, the walks into the gym, or the use of the kleenex box, the repetition in Jon's lifestyle is executed precisely. His abilities as a director are stronger than his approach crafting a script. It is a bit simplistic as I assumed it would be filled with dynamic and witty text. I do give him credit as it is far better than plenty of the other dreck out there. I kept thinking that this is the film that I think Channing Tatum wanted Magic Mike to be. I think I am the only one in my inner circle that liked Magic Mike, but I do agree it had its problems. It is not quite an equal comparison as Tatum did not write or direct that film, but it felt like his personal project much like Don Jon is to Gordon-Levitt. The pieces of this personal project seem to fit better together as a whole. Gordon-Levitt wears many hats in life as his production company hiRECord helped back the film. For his debut movie as director and screenwriter, the film is impressive. I am curious to see where this new road takes him.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)