Sundance is often synonymous with the independent film scene and the hell-freezing arctic tundra. It is always a bittersweet moment when this film festival comes and goes every year. Reading up on all the fan and critic favorite films quickly raises my anticipation for the rest of the year. Then the bitterness roles in as I never get to go…
Don Jon was one of those films on my list to look out for this year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is always passionate with each one of his projects. His acting alone could settle this argument, but when you get into his interviews, press junkets, behind the scenes, whatever, you really see the determination fueling his drive for the art.
That is precisely why I could not pass up the chance to see Gordon-Levitt star in both his writing and directing debut at the feature level. We’ve seen him in The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Inception, some remember him from (500) Days of Summer and Brick, and those who grew up in the 90’s will know 10 Things I Hate About You and “3rd Rock from the Sun.” Though my allegiance will always remain with Angels in the Outfield. But it is Gordon-Levitt’s own writing that sends him to a frontier previously unexplored.
So, without further ado we have Don Jon. Set in New Jersey, Jon (Gordon-Levitt) has it all, at least on the outside. He frequents the club scene with his boys every weekend, rating the girls he sees, playing them, then sleeping with them. In fact, his streak is flawless as he never leaves the club without a girl to take home. Yet, no matter how many girls he sleeps with, none of them can make Jon lose himself the way porn does. He is an addict, with no intentions or need to stop at any point (It should be noted, there is an abundance of porn clips and wanking it shown throughout the film – therefore, those who are faint of heart should get over themselves).
Then comes along Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the “dime” that sweeps Jon off his feet. She has everything he needs, a nice body, a nice face, and yeah, everything he needs. But even Ms. Johansson cannot sway him from the need of pornography, and that is the point. Jon has always lived his life dominated by one side, unable to make a two-way connection of any kind. I’ll try not to spoil everything, but this is pretty much the entire point of Julianne Moore’s character.
I’ve been asked a few times what the plot of Don Jon is. My answer is consistently, “It’s a character study.” First of all that sounds exponentially more alluring than, “a guy meets a girl.” Rest assured, I also have a valid reason. Jon’s character is the only thing of importance throughout the film. His life alters very little from week to week. This aspect of his life becomes brutally clear as the same scenes are repeated over and over again in order to easily show change. However, in all fairness it is a great technique to use for the film’s payoff towards the end.
The last act of Don Jon hits all the right moments. Jon’s transformation affects all the scenes we grew accustomed to throughout the prior acts. Gordon-Levitt even goes as far as to make a small critique on the church, which was done quite tastefully, or humorously. One moment that will stick in my memory had really nothing to do with Jon’s character, rather his sister, Monica (Brie Larson). I waited and waited and waited, knowing after the second time we see her and she says nothing something uplifting would be coming down the line. It did, and it was, mostly for Jon though.
This film covers a monumental amount of ground with the perfect time of 90 minutes. Fortunately, there are no moments that stick out screaming, “WASTE OF TIME!” Something those 2 hour and 45 minute movies know a thing or two about. I would say it also helps Don Jon‘s cause having the ability of falling back on the phenomenal cast that it has. By this point you know Gordon-Levitt, Johansson, Moore, and I just mentioned Larson. Two more to add to that list are up and coming actor Jeremy Luke and from “Who’s the Boss?” fame (that makes two “Who’s the Boss?” references in one post, boom), Tony Danza. Actually, in all seriousness, Danza brought his A-game to this film. He really gave a fantastic performance as Jon’s father, while also bringing the funny here and there.
With a budget of $6 million, you can be absolutely certain why all those involved came together to make Don Jon, and the “big bucks” is an incorrect answer. I would like to believe the cast and crew believed in the content and what they were making would mean something. They would be right, for Don Jon speaks to its audience on a personal level, an intimate level. An action for too long and too much money spent has been altogether avoided or met with failure. And now we must wait, wait while Mr. Gordon-Levitt storyboards his next genius concoction that could potentially launch his reputation to otherworldly prestige.
Don Jon (2013) directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt