"My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn." - Joseph Gordon Levitt, Don Jon.
If you were to opt out "my church" with "my films," you'd have a quote that perfectly replicates me.
From the get-go, meaning its debut trailer, I knew there had to be something more to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut Don Jon, than just a simple relationships between a beautiful girl and a cocky guy. The fact that the film was originally titled "Don Jon's Addiction" and that it featured a prominence of internet porn usage by its leading male character, made me think the "addiction" in question wasn't to any particular substance but to internet pornography.
Sure enough, pornography usage and dependency is one of many small themes that exist in Gordon-Levitt's film, which is an unsurprisingly confident and boisterous addition to the offbeat, indie, romantic comedy genre of film. Obviously a takeoff of the classic libertine Don Juan, the film stars its director as Jon Martello, a womanizer who frequents clubs to take part in one night stands, and boldly clings to his internet pornography and obsession with the cleanliness of his pad. In the opening monologue, he explains how and why he masturbates and the routine ritual surrounding it.
One night at the club he meets a woman he believes is the most beautiful girl of his life (Scarlett Johansson). After attempts to take her home for a one-night-stand fail, Jon decides to pursue her via Facebook in order to meet her for lunch. He discovers from the help of a bartender her name is Barbara Sugarman, and a lunch date may be the ticket for a long, healthy relationship together. He soon finds out that their personalities are drastically different; he loves to be wild, free, and devoted to only a few things in life, their relationship being one of them. She, however, is a princess in her own mind, who doesn't believe work and and labor should be done by her but by someone who isn't her.
This contrasting dilemma is what keeps Don Jon afloat. Not to mention, your tolerance of the film will rest upon how much you like the central character in the picture. He is brash, cocky, vulgar, arrogant, and openly brazen about his opinions and way of life. Gordon-Levitt portrays these traits not with the meanness you'd anticipate, but through extremely seductive ways of entertainment and attractiveness. He makes this ugly character a strong protagonist by using traits fit for an antagonist. For a character, especially one as narcissistic as this, it's truly a feat.
However, it is clear that Gordon-Levitt bites off a bit more than he can chew. He juggles many themes in Don Jon, from pornography usage in a relationship, to escapist ideas about relationships, to gender-roles, to, finally, its most ambitious theme, Catholicism's role in everyday life. At the end of every week, Jon goes to confessions, usually after he'll viciously swear at a slow-driver or have sex with a random bar-girl, and recite all his sins. He does this on a frequent basis but has no plans to change his routine or his hobbies in the slightest. He'll keep doing what he wants, and if he confesses every week, it's okay, right?
Gordon-Levitt and Johansson make a fine couple, and supporting performances of Julianne Moore as one of Jon's night school classmates and Tony Danza as Jon's vulgar father are terrific as well. In addition, the film packs in themes and ideas that are likely to be appreciated by teenagers and college kids who may be in their "Don Juan" phase in life. It speaks their language and doesn't tack on a preachy moral at the end to emphasize self-importance or didacticism.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic
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