Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
‘Don’ Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a buff, good looking young New Jersey guy who enjoys going out with his mates and every time without fail will pull an attractive woman for a night of no-strings sex, hence the nickname. Despite his apparent success with the opposite sex, he is also addicted to watching and masturbating to porn as this is the only time he truly ‘loses himself’ as in porn they do all the positions and ‘money shots’ that women never do in real life. On one night out he meets the stunningly beautiful Barbara (Johansson), from her background and love of romcoms her ideologies and her approach to love is the polar opposite. The two start up a relationship and through his relationship with Barbara and the chance meeting of an older woman (Moore) on his college course, Jon learns some serious lessons in love.
An actor’s first foray into being the writer/director, especially when they are also the film’s protagonist, can be a self indulgent affair, and from Gordon-Levitt’s smug grin on the poster and DVD cover of Don Jon this is certainly a film that suggests that. Well, our protagonist is an absolute chauvinist prick, the sort of person we have surely all seen on nights out and just thought to ourselves “I hate you”, however Gordon-Levitt never asks us to like him, and in turn there is never any defence of Jon being the way he is. We are just told the brutal facts of how Jon lives his life, and admittedly this frank honesty (and Gordon-Levitt’s effortless screen charisma) does help to produce a protagonist that may be on the surface unlikeable, but is without a doubt compelling. This is certainly helped by the overall realism of the character.
Don Jon most certainly sticks to the much fashioned three act structure of filmmaking which serves as both strength and detriment to the narrative as a whole. In the first third of the film, as we are told all about Jon’s chauvinism and macho attitude and porn addiction it is all told in a snappy way with rapid editing that is good fun to watch. The second half is his relationship with Barbara which admittedly does provoke some interesting ideas and debates about 21st century ideologies when it comes to relationships. Then the final third sees the introduction of Julianne Moore’s character where the narrative seems to take a completely different tonal and stylistic approach.
This may sound like a cop out, but I think people’s views and experiences of Don Jon may well vary on their own experiences and opinions of relationships. From scenes in the first two thirds of Jon looking us in the eye while masturbating, the scenes with his stereotypical family and his weekly confession at church, Don Jon emerges as a confident and scathingly funny film that is a very enjoyable watch. Of course the narrative has to go somewhere and his relationship with Barbara whose traditional and slightly fantastical views on relationships is a complete contradiction to Jon’s, but he is willing to compromise as she is a 10/10 and he hopes commitment sex is as good as sex looks in porn. Of course he is disappointed by his expectations and porn proves a difficult subject in their relationship. I felt here was the potential for some serious examination of modern day relationships as both Jon and Barbara are both unlikeable characters, but for different reasons. I appreciate the film is about him, but for me a more scathing detail of her flaws would prove an interesting watch, only one scene where he goes to buy a mop for his floors and she forbids him as she cannot believe he does his own cleaning does this.
The final third and the introduction of Julianne Moore, who is as always a good screen presence, unfortunately leads to a final third that descends into predictable cliché. It does not by any means ruin the film and there are still some interesting moments, with Gordon-Levitt and Moore providing depth and sympathy to their characters that the script does perhaps not provide. However by the end it may have a nice neat ending, but I could not help feel Don Jon was a case of wasted potential that could have been a bit braver had it examined its subject matter a little bit deeper (no pun intended – that would be wrong).
A cocky and confident directorial debut form Gordon-Levitt who also provides us with a charismatic and engaging protagonist, Don Jon is often good fun from start to finish. However, when trying to deal with the serious stuff for me just descends into predictable melancholic cliché instead when it could have provided a more intriguing emotional punch at the end.
Not a perfect movie by any means, but still an impressive debut from JGL that has me interested in seeing what else he’s capable of cooking-up. Good review.
Thank you, i agree it is an impressive debut proving he has talent behind as well as in front of the camera.
As this made a profit hopefully next time he will take his time and not conform so much to genre and crowd-pleasing cliches.
Wow! One of the most entertaining film reviews I’ve read for a while! I was already sold on the film as my love for JGL is undying
The whole mop scene with Barbara and Jon reminds me of another one of JGL’s other film, 500 Days of Summer.
Similarly to 500 Days, the audience didn’t pay attention to little parts that played key events. Barbara was controlling, needy, and maybe even a little bit selfish. She could have been viewed as a bad person because of how controlling she was. In 500 Days, JGL was a selfish guy who thought that a girl could give his life more meaning, and he continues to pursue her even though she’s not in love with him. So in summary, in both movies there was a character that was generally seen as a good person, but may not have been such a good person after all.
I don’t know if it was just a coincidence, but during the mop scene I was just like “wait, that seems weird” so that made me think back to 500 Days and relate the two movies.
Great review and great blog!
Thank you. I have only ever seen a few bits of 500 Days of Summer but everyone seems to love it. Is it actually any good?
I agree that Barbara had as many negative aspects as Jon and though Jon’s sister eventually (sort of) pointed it out at the end, it does some to have been ignored by many.
For me the whole film is a bit of a mess in terms of how it is written and the character studies, giving way to cliche when it could have had more edge and gone a bit further. It has some good bits though, and as it is a debut effort hopefully Levitt will do better next time.
Great review. Agree with you on the ending – it did lack dramatic punch and felt slightly too predictable, even a bit rushed. Still a great directing debut though and interested to see where JGL goes next.