"Don Jon" is Joseph Gordon-Levitt at his absolute sleaziest. As the titular character in his directorial debut, Gordon-Levitt plays a church-going sex fiend and gym rat that would make the cast of "Jersey Shore" shift uncomfortably in their seats. Jon loves his family, his car, his apartment, working out—oh, and porn. He loves his porn. This is a man who obsessively watches porn multiple times a day. Naturally, this becomes a bit of a problem when he meets the woman who may finally be 'the one.'
Scarlett Johansson plays Barbara Sugarland, the primary love interest for Jon. She is just one member of an incredible cast, many of whom are, sadly, stuck in roles that leave no room for character growth. Johansson plays the superficial, attractive blonde. Tony Danza throws himself into his role as Jon’s father, an overly aggressive and mildly creepy tough guy. The one actress who manages to truly develop her character is Julianne Moore, who enters halfway through the film to give guidance to Jon.
The first half of the film centers on the exaggerated, ridiculous relationship that Barbara and Jon develop. Jon cynically and humorously narrates his life and his thoughts over a series of shortcuts and choppy edits, bringing to mind the drug-addled world of "Requiem for a Dream." All of the editing feels very modern, and the film itself is very polished.
The ironically thematic soundtrack complements all of this. Old-school, cheesy orchestral tracks play at 'romantic' moments, and sharp electronic pulses permeate Jon’s often erratic thoughts.
The characters of this movie are caricatures that leave the audience laughing and feeling perfectly uncomfortable. Repetitions of scenes, such as Jon confessing his obsessive porn-viewing and masturbation at church each week or cussing out other drivers on the road, help the audience feel grounded in his routine.
About halfway through the film, though, the mood begins to shift. As Jon’s family is introduced and Moore’s character meets Jon in a college class, the humor starts receding. It is replaced by a very awkward, forced drama that doesn’t flow naturally from the preceding section. By the end, characters are preaching about morals and relationship values in a way that is completely unexpected. Although it was well-intended, there are some distinct problems with tone, as the film dangerously rides the line between raunchy sex comedy and deep romantic dramedy.
There is no doubt that this is a fun movie. It’s truly worth it just to see Gordon-Levitt completely inhabit his sleaze-bag character and interact with his fantastic supporting cast. But this is not the movie for smooth life lessons and romance. Gordon-Levitt shows some serious directing potential here, and his very modern take on film should yield interesting results in the future.
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