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.
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