Often it’s nice to go to the cinema blindly, preventing you from entering a film with any pre-conceptions. All I knew about Don Jon was what I had been told – the title and the fact that it was a comedy-romance starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That alone is usually enough to know it’s probably going to be worth a trip. The film my mother invited me along to turned out to feature quite a lot of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In fact, it’s written, directed and starring the man, a genuine un film de Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It also turned out to be all about porn. Lots and lots of porn. Thanks mum.
It’s an awfully stylish and well groomed first feature for JGL, if any film about porn can be described as such. He plays a New Jersey man, an Italian-American, addicted to internet porn and unable to properly connect with people. He does however always manage to hook up with the hottest girl in the club but doesn’t find the experience of sex as satisfying as the comfort of choice and anonymity found on his laptop. He starts dating Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, surely a tactical piece of casting on JGL’s part), they meet each other’s families and Jon’s parents wonder if maybe he’s finally found ‘the one’. But no matter how sexy Scarlett Johansson might be, she’s not enough for Jon, who can’t kick his porn addiction despite Barbara’s disapproving and controlling nature. He meets a mature student at night school (Julianne Moore), who helps him discover a more intimate, interesting human connection.
Don Jon is honest and snappily directed, all cut together with a touch of polish. Much of the first act can come across as trite and chauvinistic, that’s until Julianne Moore turns up and helps Jon learn what it means to build an emotional connection with someone else. She’s a revelation and the relationship between the characters manages to feel both melancholy and harsh. The film has a lot of nice little touches, such as Jon’s confession ritual every Sunday being treated with the same sense of routine mundanity as his porn viewing habits. There’s his parents (Glenne Headly and Tony Danza), bickering in the kitchen over the endless, brainless noise of the television while their daughter constantly texts away. So many little details nicely present the breakdown in modern communication. Unfortunately, Scarlett Johansson’s character does end up feeling like a bit of a caricature of a ‘spoilt hot girl’ and it’s certainly not perfect, nor does it provide the commentary on sex and society that it attempts. It reminded me a bit of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights but maybe trying a little bit too hard to impress. It’s a bold and imaginative debut for JGL, which certainly shows the man has talent and a possible future in filmmaking.
Review by David Rank
Don Jon is out now in the UK and US . Running time 90 mins. Certificate 18 (UK).