Don Jon presents a surprisingly adult perspective on relationships. First time writer, director, and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he came up with the idea for Don Jon during the filming of a film called 50/50 with Seth Rogan. In that film, Rogan (who wrote and starred in 50/50) tries to help his friend, played by Gordon-Levitt, through the drama of his recent Cancer diagnosis by coaxing him to lose himself in meaningless sex and to use his Cancer as a sympathy device with women. Gordon-Levitt’s character Jon in Don Jon feels like a combination of those two characters, which is quite fascinating.
Don Jon, in essence, is a modern retelling of the classic Don Juan legends. Here, Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a slick, confident ladies man – handsome, confident, and consumed with his appearance and the appearance of those with whom he desires intimacy. As we get to know Jon, we are immersed in his chauvinism and addictive personality. He hits the gym for his patterned out workout, he hits the church for his prepared confessions, and he hits the Internet for his regular masturbatory sessions. He also hits the clubs nightly with his friends where they rate women on their appearance, hoping for the elusive “dime” or perfect 10. That “dime” appears in the form of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). From the moment Jon and Barbara begin their romance, Don Jon stops being a character piece and starts being an intriguing look at adult relationships and how the opposite sexes view each other. In most retellings of Don Juan legends, the protagonist’s sinful ways are dealt with very one-dimensionally in that he is punished for taking advantage of those around him. Gordon-Levitt tries something different. He tells a far more relatable story about how both men and women are guilty of attaching unreal expectations on each other due to stereotypes perpetuated by a society that profits on obsession; for men it’s the porn industry and for women it’s the fairy-tale romantic stories in the movies.
As Jon and Barbara’s relationship continues, Jon’s addiction with porn complicates things because Jon values the virtual more than the physical. Meanwhile, Barbara’s addiction to romantic love stories puts unreal expectations on how Jon is supposed to live his life if he’s going to be with her. All of this is explored with a careful eye by Gordon-Levitt, the director. The culmination of which is his subtle introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore) as an older classmate in Jon’s night school course. Gordon-Levitt did wonders for his film by including Moore, and it is apparent from the moment she appears. His most impressive camera work, acting, and staging occurs in this act, and it all strengthens the film as a whole.
Gordon-Levitt has made a fine exploration of one sub-section of modern adult relationships. While some scenes seem a bit forced in terms of situation and/or dialogue (i.e. the curtain rod scene between Jon and Barbara), most of what he does works very well. Gordon-Levitt also brilliantly casts Tony Danza in a small part as his character’s father and gets an excellent little performance out of him. It may not be time for Academy Award winning filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt just yet, but he does show promise behind the camera apart from in front of it. B+
Don Jon is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes. It’s a good looking, well acted look at some modern aspects of adult relationships.