Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don Jon (2013)

There's nothing like seeing a movie that really speaks to you, but then realize that the fact you identify with it so much means you might have a problem.  That's how I felt after watching Don Jon, the writing and directing debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I think the JGL got in my head a little bit.

Jon (Joey Go-Levs) has no problem with the ladies.  He's so adept at picking up chicks and getting one night stands that his friends call him "Don Jon".  However, one night he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and she shuts him down.  Believing she's the hottest chick he's ever seen, he decides to pursue her normally and starts a relationship with her.

Jon has a bit of a secret he's keeping from Barbara though: he loves porn.  He breaks down his "porn philosophy" and why he prefers it to actual sex in a scene that was not only hilarious, but I found mirrored some of my own thoughts a little too closely.  It's pretty bad when you see a montage of porn and recognize some of the stars or even movies the clips come from.  Some would say Jon is addicted to porn, but I would say that it's more that he romanticizes it and it's become a replacement for intimacy.  If anything, I'd say he was more addicted to masturbation.  When your daily masturbation totals approach double digits, I think that's a bigger problem.  It's not like he's hurting anybody though, and it doesn't appear to have much of an effect on his life.  It's not like Michael Fassbender in Shame where it's putting his job in jeopardy.  On the other hand, we've all heard about studies where it's said that easy access to porn is causing people to not pursue meaningful relationships or give up on them when there's the slightest bit of difficulty.  This is just an example of that.

Despite Jon's outward appearance of a meathead, he has good relationship with his family, eating dinner with them frequently and attending church each week to confess to his behavior.  One thing I have to give JGL credit for is that Don Jon is a deeper film than at first glance.  I can understand seeing the trailer and thinking it's going to be some shallow movie about a bunch of guidos that pick up chicks and watch porn, but there's more going on here.  Although I loved the dichotomy of seeing Jon dealing with road rage while driving to church, and his confessions were always good for a laugh.

Anyway, Jon's porn only becomes a problem once Barbara checks his browser history, which is an issue all on it's own.  She really doesn't like porn and thinks it's disgusting.  Jon takes issue with her love of bad romantic comedies, and makes the argument that what you see in a rom-com is no more fake or unrealistic than what you seen in porn.  I have to say I take Jon's side in this fight.  With regards to rom-coms, Don Jon features a few fake movies with some good cameos that audiences should get a kick out of.  Even before Barbara discovered Jon's porn, she started to show her true colors, which reinforced his behavior even more.

Finally, while attending night class, he meets Esther (Julianne Moore) and forms an unusual friendship with her.  Esther's introduction was one of the story elements I thought was a little odd.  When you first see her, she's just crying by herself outside of class and nothing is really said.  It's an awkward introduction, especially when it's obvious she's going to play a bigger part in the story later on.  You don't get Julianne Moore to do a single scene in a movie where she's crying for no reason.  Even as their friendship develops it still seemed odd how she was forcing herself in his life.  Eventually it comes together and leads to a conclusion I wasn't expecting.

The product placement was a little too obvious, as well.  An Apple laptop his heavily featured, there's a very in your face Carl's Jr./Hardee's commercial, as well as an entire conversation revolving around Tivo.  Don't get me wrong, I get why the product placement exists, it was just a little over-the-top.

Despite these small issues, this is a great directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  With both writing, directing, and starring, he may have had a little too much on his plate, but I was still really impressed.  His script is consistently funny and there's a surprising emotional depth.  As you'd expect with JGL, he is great in front of the camera, too.  Leave it to him to make me like and identify with a guido from New Jersey.  This might also be my favorite performance from Scarlett Johansson.  Despite how they make her up for the film, which is totally not my type, it might be the hottest I've seen her.  I've criticized her in the past for being a little wooden, but that was definitely not the case here.  I could make joke about wood, but I won't...

My surprise performance has to go to Tony Danza, who is absolutely fantastic at Jon's dad.  It's a such a great performance that you have to wonder why he hasn't been doing more movies.  Lastly, Brie Larson does her best Silent Bob impression, never speaking while texting the entire movie, until she has one thing to say that makes Jon feel better about himself.

Don Jon is a hilarious and smart film, featuring great performances, and an assured directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  While there are some small flaws, I can't think of too many films this year I've enjoyed more or laughed out loud as much while watching.  I highly recommend checking it out.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Call it Death Star porn.

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