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Love and pornography Don Jon'

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Don Jon Don Jon

Gordon-Levitt makes feature writing, directorial debut

When an actor even a talented one makes his or her first foray behind the camera, viewers should always approach with some trepidation. Talent in one film-related arena does not necessarily equate to talent in another. And when the actor in question has written and directed the film one in which he himself stars all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt ('Looper') has managed it better than most.

'Don Jon' marks Gordon-Levitt's feature debut both as a director and as a writer. That sort of double-duty is hard enough to pull off, but to triple up by also starring in the film is a big risk; it's the kind of move that requires both significant talent and a good deal of confidence in that talent.

And it's a move that, at least in this case, has paid off.  

Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a 'guy's guy.' He's a good-looking dude with a set of very clear priorities his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn. His buddies have dubbed him 'Don Jon' due to his ability to gain the attention of just about any woman that he wants, whenever he wants. However, no real-life woman has ever given him the same level of satisfaction as he gets every time he turns on his laptop.

Things start to change when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, 'Hitchcock'). She's smart and beautiful and a little on the old-fashioned side. When she resists his usual game, he's forced to delve deeper and soon finds himself falling for her. However, when she catches him watching porn, she issues an ultimatum he has to choose between her and the porn. Jon chooses her.

For a while.

The two of them become a couple they meet one another's friends; Jon introduces her to his mom (Glenne Headley, 'The Joneses') and dad (Tony Danza!). Barbara even convinces Jon to go back to school. He takes a business class where he encounters the eccentric Esther (Julianne Moore, 'Game Change'), a sad and odd woman who is the only person in the class older than he is.

Jon struggles to find real intimacy; both Barbara and Esther offer glimpses at potential paths toward that ultimate goal, but only Jon himself can make the choice to walk down them.  He has to decide what is really important to him if he hopes to become the man he wants to be.

Essentially, what we have here is the 'Citizen Kane' of meathead rom-coms.

Gordon-Levitt's inherent likeability informs his portrayal of Jon, a guy who would be less than palatable in the hands of a less generally genial performer. But Gordon-Levitt fills in the spaces between and beneath the seeming shallowness with a depth of feeling that comes off as engaging and very genuine. Despite some flaws, his Jon is a guy for whom we can't help but root.

Johansson is clearly having a ball as the gum-cracking Barbara, balancing a flirty energy with a baseline conservatism. The combination seems like it should play weirdly, but instead creates a surprisingly dynamic character. Moore too brings a juxtaposition of attitudes to her portrayal of Esther, combining a freewheeling spirit with an underlying sadness that cuts to the quick; she's always good, but she's borderline-great here.

There's nothing particularly striking about the direction. That's not a criticism; for a first-timer, the effort is surprisingly competent. It's not great, but it's good enough to indicate a possible future behind the camera. The screenplay is maybe a little light on story, but the characters created are an engaging bunch for sure. He has definitely captured something.

In the end, 'Don Jon' is a quality effort. It brings together humor and pathos thanks to a concerted effort from the ensemble and some excellent work from its writer/director/star.

[4 out of 5] 

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 October 2013 16:03

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