Joseph Gordon-Levitt has had quite a lengthy Hollywood career for only being thirty-two years of age. Even though he started out acting at age seven in the 1988 TV Movie entitled Stranger on My Land, his more noticeable break into stardom would be his five year stint as Tommy Solomon on the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. Known for his comedic sensibilities, Gordon-Levitt has somewhat shed that persona in the last several years in favor of playing more dramatic roles in films such as The Lookout, Inception, and Looper. Although drama is now his mainstay, he still tends to pepper in some more light-hearted roles such as the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer as well as his writing and directorial debut Don Jon.
The film is about a Jersey boy name Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has four main priorities in his life: family, friends, church, and porn. He goes on week by week indulging in all four categories in a very repetitive cycle. Eventually the cycle is somewhat interrupted when instead of picking up a girl from a club to have sex with, he begins to fall for the hard-to-get Jersey girl named Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson. He then begins to court Barbara. He has her meet his family, he takes her to church, he shows her off at a date night with his friends, but as soon as she finds out that he loves porn, she gives him the ultimatum of porn or her. It is at that point where his cycle is broken and he is forced to evaluate what he truly wants in life.
Even though the subject matter is somewhat subdued and scandalous in tone, Don Jon is one hell of a comedic gem. Gut busting, laugh-out-loud moments are interspersed between the more dramatic moments so well that you can’t help but wait for the next joke to hit. While at first it is tough to see Gordon-Levitt play a Jersey guido, he sinks into the role quite nicely and any pre-conceived notions of him giving a hammy performance fly right out the window. In addition, his father in the film played by Tony Danza steals nearly every single scene that he is in. Danza is about as stereotypical of a Jersey dad as you can get and you can’t help but laugh at his obnoxious ways of thinking while wearing a wife beater the entire time.
The film ebbs and flows through Jon’s discovery of life and what it means to be a man in very serious and true-to-life ways. He is essentially a porn addict and the film isn’t scared to show you the consequences of said lifestyle while mixing in humor the entire time. For being the first film directed by Gordon-Levitt, I went in with somewhat mixed expectations. For some first-time directors their first feature is their best. For others it’s what ends their premature career, but for Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon shows what a talented and well respected actor can do when they have the ability to step behind the camera and show another side of themselves.
Not everything in Don Jon is teddy bears and rainbows. The film does offer some weak points such as scenes in-between other scenes that add nothing to the narrative as well as an ending that is ambitious but somewhat of a letdown overall. The conclusion is not a disaster by any means, but it goes in a direction that makes me question the Jon character’s motivations throughout the entirety of the film. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a funny, satirical look on the Jersey boy culture intermixed with phenomenal performances, Don Jon is far from being the grenade it could have turned out to be.
FINAL TAKE: 8/11
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About the Movie
Synopsis: A Jersey guy loves his family, his friends, his church, and his porn. One day that all changes due to him meeting the love of his life.
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza
Run time: 90 min