I’m a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Beyond his appearing in some of my favorite movies over the past several years (Brick, Looper) it’s a real joy to watch him interviewed because you know how sincerely he loves being an actor and entertaining people, and how aware he is of the life he’s been blessed with. So, of course I was curious to see what would happen when Levitt took on the responsibilities of writing and directing a film of his own, and the results were not at all disappointing.
Levitt plays Jon, a twenty something man child who tells us immediately that there are only a few things in life he really cares about: how he looks, his apartment, his car, his friends, his family, his church, his women, and his porn. The porn obsession in particular is at the forefront of Don Jon, but it doesn’t ever feel like a gimmick. Actually, it manages to provide an unconventional avenue to the film being legitimately profound. Structurally, the movie is based on Jon’s various routines. He is a creature of habit, and we are constantly seeing him going to church, going to the gym, driving, cleaning, watching porn and so on over and over, and what you might not realize until the end is that this routine (including the masturbation) is a metaphor for Jon’s masturbatory existence.
Jon’s routine is disturbed when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson; The Avengers), who manages to resist his charms to the point of convincing Jon he’s in love and ready for a real relationship, but the happy couple start to clash when Barbara discovers Jon’s love of porn.
There is so much to like about this. First, I don’t remember the last time I laughed this much at a film. The World’s End had some equally big laughs, but Don Jon kept me laughing basically from start to finish. The jokes were superbly timed and played to perfection, and jokes that were repeated throughout the film managed to get funnier with each repetition, even if a particular laugh button was pushed twenty times. Levitt and the supporting cast are all perfectly fitted to their roles. Johansson brings a lot of complexity to what could have easily been a shallow and vapid character. Tony Danza’s portrayal of Jon’s father is unlike anything I’ve ever seen the actor do, and frankly didn’t know he was capable of. And Julianne Moore emerges with a small yet surprisingly cool and sensual performance that is beautiful to witness.
The entire film is a true credit to Levitt’s talent as a storyteller. Every shot here has purpose, and the themes fold in on each other in unexpected and exciting ways. It’s bold, unashamed, and extremely provocative while making a lot of relevant and interesting statements about the disconnected world we’ve come to live in. I really can’t recommend it enough.