Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in the new film Don Jon, a romantic dramady about pornography addiction. Yes, you read that correctly. Levitt is pumped up and ultra confident as a New Jersey lothario, who has it all under control. He has no problem scoring with the ladies and this makes him the envy of his “boys” – side kicks Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke). Jon is also devoted to his family and his car and attends church every Sunday, where his hysterical confessions become a running gag. When he spots the sexy, beautiful Barbara Sugarman (a flawless Scarlett Johansson) at a club, he calls her a dime (a 10) and thinks she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Tired of unfulfilling one night stands and the loneliness of internet porn, Jon is looking for a change. He vows to snare Barbara and for the first time in his life pursues a long term relationship. As their relationship develops it becomes clear that Barbara has an agenda all of her own.
Jon is determined to give his girl everything she wants, including attending night school to improve himself, meeting the parents and ditching his friends to watch romantic movies with Barbara. However there is one thing he cannot do, despite his desire to be a good boyfriend, give up his addiction. Johansson is perfect as the desirable, alluring, charming, but ultimately controlling Barbara. The girl that everyone wants, but no one can please, Johansson impresses as she totally inhabits the character, and makes her real. Julianne Moore as Esther, an older student in Jon’s night class is a wild card. Despite several scenes of interaction there is something not quite credible about the relationship between Esther and Jon. Of course character change is a desirable element in film plots, especially since we are so loath to change in real life, but there is something about Jon’s evolution that feels a bit rushed. A fling with a woman Esther’s age seems plausible, if not for the sheer number of women Jon sleeps with; however a long term relationship with a woman twenty years older than him is hard to accept. A character so obsessed with porn, which is full of young women, and who so gloriously objectifies women couldn’t bare the public scrutiny of being involved with an earthy cougar like Moore’s character.
I am not a Tony Danza fan, but I am impressed with his ability to keep finding work with such limited talents. I am perhaps the only critic who isn’t raving about his work here as Jon’s profane, loud, sexist father, complete with a wife-beater t-shirt. Frankly, Danza at 62 looks too old to play youthful Jon’s father, especially when reference is made to how young he and Jon’s mother (Glenne Headly) were married. It is a chronological fact that no one bothered to check. But, I am picking perhaps.
Still despite this, Don Jon is fresh, honest, entertaining and has layers of complexity that 90% of other films being made today lack. It has genuine laughs and deals with subjects that aren’t often tackled in film: pornography addiction, the objectification of women, the inability to be intimate and infatuation vs. deeper love.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, Watertown, NY