Friday, September 27, 2013

Don Jon

My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.

If you’ve seen the confident, snappy, amusingly repetitive trailer for the confident, snappy, amusingly repetitive new film, Don Jon, then you know the list above is what the title character lives for.

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who could very well be the most gifted actor of his generation) is hailed as “Don Jon” by his bros because of his ability to easily lay attractive women. The introductory segment of the film is dedicated to watching Jon spend day after day going through his list. He works out, cleans his apartment, cruises the streets, hangs with the family, hits the club, brings a girl home – awesome night. Awesome save the fact that once his flavor of the day is fast asleep, Jon tip toes to the living room to find that perfect clip of online porn, then finishes himself off the only gratifying way he knows how.

Next day. Repeat.

We see this sequence a lot, especially early in the film. And, quite frankly, were this sequence of repetitive self-idolization and misogyny in any other movie, it wouldn’t be much better than an episode of Jersey Shore. But Don Jon is different. It has a wit to it, a peculiar charm and self-effacement that is undeniably enjoyable. It’s the first feature film written and directed by Gordon-Levitt, but it plays like the work of a seasoned pro. With Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt has proved that his writing and directing are as confident as his acting, which is meant as high praise.

Back to the porn. Don Jon likes his porn. He likes it so much that he has his masturbation down to a strict (and hilariously pathetic) routine. When he spots Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at a club one night, everything changes. Jon courts Barbara for weeks; taking her to lame romantic comedies, introducing her to his parents, meeting her friends, dinners, drinks, and so on, all without sex. Not yet. Barbara knows what cards she has and she plays them well. So Don Jon, craving what little he has yet to learn about Barbara, changes his ways. He gives up (or rather… cuts back) on the porn, and does his best to make his relationship work.

Women marry the man they think he can become and try to change him; men marry the woman they want, and then she changes. 

That’s something I read in Esquire magazine a few years ago, and it has always stuck with me. An interesting notion, one that applies perfectly to Jon and Barbara’s relationship. I’m not going to divulge further plot details, but beyond Barbara’s disgust for Jon’s porn routine, this couple has problems. Problems that Jon’s family (played hilariously by scene stealer Tony Danza, as well as Glenne Headly and Brie Larson) bring to his attention, as well as his pal, Esther (Julianne Moore). To the extent in which these people open Jon’s eyes is best left for the viewer to discover, as they make for some of the best moments in the film.


As mentioned, Don Jon is the work of a truly confident artist. It contains a great balance of humor and drama, all while firmly embracing its R rating. Some may find the New Jerseyness of the characters off putting, especially regarding Johansson’s acting. I didn’t have a problem with it, but I expect some will. In fact, the only thing about Don Jon that I had a problem with is something I cannot mention, as it would reveal too much. Despite this, I recommend Don Jon whole-heartedly. This has been a damn fine year for cinema, and we’re not even to October yet. Most of what I’ve loved in 2013 has been powerful and challenging. Don Jon is a welcome reprieve from the cinematic intensity that has come before (and will surely come after) it this year. It’s a damn smart, fun flick. B

24 comments:

  1. Honestly, I was having a great time with this movie and liked everything, until it got to its last-act. Then, that's where I felt like JGL didn't know what to do with the head of steam that he built up to that point. That said, I can't wait to see what he's got next in terms of writing and directing, because the dude's a heck of a talent, and can practically do anything. Song, dance, act, direct, write, make love, etc. You name it! Good review my man.

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    1. Had the last act been structure a little differently, I would've given the film an A-, so I completely agree with you. It kind of fell off there at the end. But I still had a ball with it!

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  2. I was unfortunately let down by this movie. Based on the trailer I expected it to be a whole lot funnier than it was. I thought the directing and writing was confident for sure, and the acting was great (though I think Julianne Moore stole the show) but the entire thing just didn't live up to what I expected. I definitely give props to JGL for doing this all himself and for a first go it's not bad, but aside from actually being about something and having good performances, it didn't really do anymore for me than another romantic comedy has done. Good review though good sir.

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    1. I suppose I was hoping it'd be better as well, but I also hope that of most every movie I see. The last act (and ending) didn't fully work for me, but overall, I thought the film was a perfectly fine way to spend 100 minutes. Silly and fun.

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    2. I won't disagree with you there. I fully enjoyed myself for its duration but I guess after having watched Enough Said (and I really owe you a debt of thanks for turning me onto Holofcener's work in the first place, so thanks!) which I felt was a much more honest and naturalistic portrayal of a relationship, this one just fell flat in comparison.

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    3. Enough Said, as is the case with all of Holofcener's work, is so damn honest. But, I think her films are really only honest of the age they depict (which is perfectly fine). I wonder how Holofcener would handle a young love.

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  3. I'm so excited for this! Going to go to the cinema to see it all by myself if nobody wants to come but I'm sure I'm able to drag somebody along. My boy JGL is awesome!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it! JGL rocks. (I see movies by myself all the time. Sometimes, I even prefer it that way.)

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    2. I once saw this girl post on FB that she was thinking of going to the cinema alone and asking if that was normal. All the comments said that "it's weird!" "that's retarded, nobody goes to the cinema alone!" "only emos go to the cinema alone" - so etc - and I was like, well, I guess I'm weird then. :D

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    3. Me too! I'd say 80% of the movies I see in the theater, I see alone. That started when I got my license, and couldn't convince friends to see indie movies in the city with me. They wanted blockbusters, and I wanted a foreign film about lost love. Oh well!

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  4. hmm your review sounds more interesting than what i thought the movie was. i may check this out.

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    1. It's definitely a fun little flick. Enjoy it!

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  5. I'm going to see this on Sunday as I'm very excited to see this. Plus, I want to see those lame romantic movies Scar-Jo's character tries to convince JGL to see. Oh man, I bet they're so bad.

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    1. Oh man, they are so, so bad. I'm sure JGL had a blast shooting that stuff. Hope you dig the flick.

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  6. Great review! I'm really looking forward to this, the wait until Monday (when I finally have time) is killing me.

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    1. Thanks! I hope you like it. I thought it was a lot of fun!

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  7. Glad you liked it man. I'll be checking it out later this week. Can't wait!

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  8. Just posted my review on this one, sounds like we're on the same page on this one Alex. The ending feels rushed which is a bummer given how good Julianne Moore's performance and character arc. I agree this is such a confident work from JGL, even the repetitive sequences actually works efficiently here, there's certainly a distinct style to his direction. Very promising work indeed.

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    1. It did feel rushed, didn't it? Like the last five minutes were just chopped off. A good first effort, but not a perfect one. Heading over to your review now!

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  9. Great review! It seems like MUCH lighter version of Shame. I can't wait to see this one.

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    1. Thanks! Much lighter indeed. Plus, I'm not entirely sure Jon is an addict. I just think he likes to wank. A lot.

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  10. Pumped to check this one out. JGL is a genius, one of the best minds in business. He'll only get better. I remember when I first heard about this, I said I'm in! Movies about porn = great. lol

    Good review, Alex. I haven't forgotten about your ass, I'll post more.

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    1. Ha, it's all good man, I really appreciate you reading/commenting at all. It means a lot. So glad to hear you're a JGL fan. He's great.

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