The 400-Word Review: Don Jon
By Sean Collier
September 30, 2013
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to get better at directing and writing movies without actually, you know, directing and writing movies. That means that before Joseph Gordon-Levitt becomes a fine director or a skilled writer, he’s going to have to make a few more films like Don Jon — interesting movies that show promise, but are sloppy and deeply flawed.
Fortunately, Gordon-Levitt is a stellar actor, and supports Don Jon’s shaky frame in front of the camera. (According to the Huffington Post, Christopher Nolan cautioned Gordon-Levitt against starring in his directorial debut; the wiser move may have been to keep the role and the script and hand the camera to someone else.) The title character is an avowed creature of habit, living a tightly ordered life of family, church, meticulous cleaning and a well-used gym membership. Most of his remaining time is filled with Internet porn; Jon is addicted to the stuff, even if he doesn’t believe that such a designation is possible. (The film’s original title was Don Jon’s Addiction.)
When he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johannsen) at a club, he’s smitten enough to slightly disturb his rhythms. Despite her demand, though, he can’t shake the smut. The reactions of both Jon and Barbara to his habit reveal what Don Jon is actually after, a commentary on relationships, ritual and honesty.
There’s some interesting stuff in there, and the film is entertaining and often funny. The two leads strike a difficult balance of charm and brashness, and the supporting cast is mostly game (Tony Danza, as Jon’s carbon-copy father, is a standout).
Inevitably, though — and unsurprisingly, given that Gordon-Levitt has only directed shorts to date — Don Jon can’t maintain itself until the conclusion. A key character arrives late, in the form of Esther (Julianne Moore), a middle-aged student taking the same night class as Jon; the inconsistencies in both her character and Jon’s feelings towards her cripple the credibility of the last act. Even more distractingly, Gordon-Levitt can’t settle on a style and abruptly changes his handling of the camera late in the film. The motivation is clear, but the execution is poor.
Ultimately, Don Jon is nothing to avoid, with enough small success and amusing sequences to distract from its significant flaws. As a storyteller and an artist, Gordon-Levitt is thoughtful and motivated; it just takes practice to become great. Don Jon is a worthy warm-up swing.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark