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.
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.
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.
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.
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.