Don Jon

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Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Screenplay: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn“.

For anyone remotely interested in film, it’s been hard not to notice or monitor the rise of Joseph Gordon-Levitt over recent times. Sure, he started off as a child actor in 1988 and appeared in such television shows as “Family Ties“, “L.A. Law” and “Quantum Leap“. He made his film debut in Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” before arguably becoming a household name in the brilliant TV show “3rd Rock from the Sun“. Since then, his meteoric rise has went from strength to strength in both independent and blockbuster movies. “Don Jon” now marks another achievement in Gordon-Levitt’s career; it’s his writing and directorial debut and it’s a very strong footing to start on.

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Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a New Jersey playboy – nicknamed “Don Jon” for his ability to pick-up a different girl every night. He soon meets his match in Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) and decides to leave his old habits to the side as he tries to succeed in a meaningful relationship. However, there’s one habit that Jon can’t break and that’s his obsession and addiction to internet porn.

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From the offset this film bombards us with sexual images of scantily clad women in bikinis; they’re on the beach; they’re at sports events; they’re on adverts and within minutes it’s clear that Gordon-Levitt’s intentions are to remind us of the sexual exploitation of women in our society. It’s a less than subtle device but very effective all the same. We then get to meet the man himself – “Don Jon”, staring blankly at his laptop with a box of hankies by his side and talking us through his love for internet porn. At this point, I was reminded of Michael Fassbender’s character in Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and how male’s with a high labido and sexual prowess are being scrutinised in more depth in contemporary cinema. Their bravado is not a sign of strength, but weakness, and it’s refreshing to see the layers and indiscretions of such a character more exposed. Fassbender gave the performance of the year in 2011 and deserved kudos for his bravery in that role. Although not quite as powerful or daring, Gordon-Levitt deserves kudos too; he doesn’t shy from away from depicting his character as anything less than an asshole. With a towering physique and predatory demeanour, he no longer looks like the average boy-next-door and impressively handles his most unsympathetic role yet. It’s not just his performance that stands out, though. His ability to handle his supporting cast, draws out excellent performances from everyone involved and the subtlety of his writing brings a three-dimensional edge to all the characters. His relationship with Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara, for example, only serves to reflect himself. On the surface, it would seem that they are completely different but it takes the shallowness of one to expose the other and the relationship with his father (an excellent Tony Danza) hints at where Jon may have been influenced in his views on the opposite gender. There’s a maturity to Gordon Levitt’s writing and to do it under the guise of a romantic-comedy is cleverly done. Some may categorise this film in that genre but I found it to be more of an astute character study and a welcome commentary on our increasingly distant society (his sister is always preoccupied with her phone and doesn’t interact with anyone) or the tokenism of religious beliefs where everything will be absolved with a few Hail Mary’s or Acts of Contrition. All is not lost, though, as hope comes in the form of a free spirited Julianne Moore where Gordon-Levitt seizes the opportunity to lambast the beauty myth and urges us to look further than the imposed objectification of women.

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It would be hard for anyone to deny that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most consistent in the business. He’s everywhere at the moment and, thankfully, it doesn’t look like he’s about to go away anytime soon. All eyes may have been on him as he ventured into different territory here but – if you’ll pardon the pun – he manages to pull it off.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tony Danza previously worked together in Disney’s “Angels in the Outfield” in 1994, when Levitt was only 12 years old.

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56 Responses to “Don Jon”

  1. GaryLee828 Says:

    I was going to recommend this one to you after “500 Days of Summer” but didn’t want to bombard you with too many recs at one time, so opted to offer up the stronger “Raising Victor Vargas”. This one was pretty good, but not nearly as good as “500DOS”. Good review. πŸ™‚

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  2. I see you’ve been trying to pile in some end-of-year viewing Mark! Not see this yet, but great work as always.

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    • Thought I’d finish the year with a little Gordon-Levitt double bill, Mark. I’ve been very interested in his progress over the years and his directorial debut top’s off his fine work. Here’s to more over the new year!

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  3. Fine review Mark. His got a really short run at my local cinema so I missed it then but I definitely want to give it a go. I think JGL is a really good actor and it’s good to see he can turn his hand to other aspects too.

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    • Cheers Chris. I’m a fan of JGL myself and it’s even better to see him take that directorial and writing leap. He’s good, man. I’m now very interested in what he does next.

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  4. This is taken from the biography: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MARK “THAT’S RIGHT LADIES” WALKER, yes?

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  5. Nice review. I’d probably rate it a little lower than you. I loved most of it apart from the last act. I didn’t care for the plot with Julianne Moore, it felt very awkward and forced. A quick way to wrap up Don’s story.

    Glad you liked Tony Danza. I thought he was excellent too.

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    • I thought Danza was great. It’d be good to see him get more again. I hope this film reminds a few people of what he can do.

      I didn’t mind the Julianne Moore side to things as I thought it was quite important to depict a female character that was more than just a body or a doormat. I thought it worked fairly well.

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  6. Nice review Mark. It’s a very funny movie and definitely shows some real, hard-earned insight into a character that needed some. However, it’s not perfect and by that last-act, I couldn’t help but feel like JGL didn’t know what to do next, nor how to end it.

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    • Cheers Dan. It would seem that your not alone on your feelings of the last act. I actually thought it flowed quite well and was quite important to the development of JGL’s character.

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  7. This one shows plenty of promise. JGL is his normal terrific actor, and I agree that he directs it well. I don’t think his screenplay particularly strong, though, so I graded it lower than you did.

    All the same, good review!

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  8. Fantastic piece here Mark, thanks for giving JGL the credit I also believe he deserves! The thing isn’t perfect but its a very very strong footing indeed. Balancing all three aspects to a film is quite intimidating, but he does pull it off. . . .like a sock. A used sock.

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  9. LOL. “They give awards for porn too.” Yep, who can’t imagine a boyfriend attempting that one? Anyway, this was a great review, and I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is ridiculously talented. He’s the hotshot of his hollywood age range and just so much fun to interact with as an audience member. He really doesn’t miss a step in his understanding and execution of a character.

    You just reminded me. Missed this one…but not because I was disinterested. Life takes the opportunities away in places.

    But, I plan to circle back for sure.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Happy New Year!

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    • Couldn’t agree more. JGL certainly is the man to compete with in his age range just now. Everything he touches of late, turns to gold. He’s on a winning streak and long may it continue. I hope you get to see this soon, it’s certainly worthy of some attention.

      Thanks for dropping in and Happy New Year to you too! πŸ™‚

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      • I have a list of films to watch this weekend. Is it out yet? Placing it on that list!

        You got it, always a pleasure. Thanks for the New Year wish… πŸ˜‰

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  10. Someone’s on a bit of a JGL kick. πŸ˜‰ Nice review here, Mark. I thought this was a decent directorial debut for JGL, and it definitely leaves me interested to see what he’ll come up with next.

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    • Yeah, I actually done a triple bill of JGL movies: the other one was 50/50 but I never wrote a review on it. For the life of me, I just couldn’t string one together.

      This was great though, and I’m definitely keen to see where Gordon-Levitt goes next. Thanks man!

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      • Yeah, I was actually considering suggesting 50/50 as well. Before I saw (500), it was by far the most impressed with JGL I’ve ever been in a film. That guy is quite the talent. πŸ™‚

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      • He certainly is quite the talent Chris. I hear that an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman could be in the works next, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that.

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  11. I really wish I hadn’t missed this in the theatre. Looking forward to it coming out on VOD at some stage.

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  12. Good review as always Mark. I thought it was quite strange for JGl to begin directing relatively early in his career, sounds like he’s pulled it off though.

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  13. Great review, Mark. I intend to see this one in the coming days. JGL is one of my favorite stars and I really want to see how he fares behind the camera.

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  14. Nice review. πŸ™‚ You liked it a little more than me but it’s a very good start for JGL. Shame is certainly better, though. As is Fassbender. But Don Jon was still enjoyable. I look forward to JGL making more films. πŸ™‚

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    • Shame is actually one of my favourite films and this didn’t really compete with it, but I admire JGL tackling a similar subject matter with a lighter tone. I was very impressed and it does bode well for the future. Thanks! πŸ™‚

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  15. I am really becoming a fan of JGL. I really enjoyed the movie and thought the end is what made the movie so great. While I thought Julianne Moore and JGL’s characters could have connected better and had better chemistry, I thought the end at a meaning behind it. Overall I loved it.

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    • Agreed Brooke! Moore and JGL could have done with a little more chemistry but I still bought into it and quite liked the ending too. A lot of people seemed to think it was cop-out and that he didn’t know how to end it but I thought it quite fitting for him developing as a character and overcoming his faults.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. It’s always good to hear a new voice. πŸ™‚

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  16. I agree, Gordon-Levitt did pull this one off. A confident and spirited debut film – really glad you dug it! And yes, Danza was indeed excellent. What a hoot.

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    • Yeah, I really went with this one Alex. Gordon-Levitt done a great job all round. I was thoroughly impressed and it was fantastic to see Danza deliver the goods too. I hope he gets more work now.

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  17. Great review! The movie didn’t completely work for me but I did love the performances, especially Johannson and Danza. I’m interested in seeing what Levitt directs next.

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    • Thanks Sati. I’m not normally a fan of Johansson but she was absolutely superb here. Perfectly played. As was Danza, I really enjoyed him. The future is bright for JGL.

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  18. Glad to see that you gave this gem of a film a high score. I’m not one for films dealing primary with romance, but Gordon managed to write and be the director of a winner here with exciting characters and fun scenarios.

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  19. Oh now I feel ashamed that I haven’t written about this yet. Like you I liked it a lot. I thoght it was a very strong debut movie and I was so disappointed when the Swedish public radio film show dismissed it when it was screened in Cannes, much I think because of his background as a child actor. It was as if they couldn’t think of him outside of that box.

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    • I really liked this and Gordon-Levitt’s approach to how women are so often viewed in society. The fact that he was a child actor and is now delivering his own work on such a subject matter reinforces how far he’s came over the years. It’s a great debut. I hope you get around to writing about it. I love to read it.

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  20. It was an interesting film, but thought it repeated its point a bit too much. Still a pretty good directorial debut.

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