Written and Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke
Rated: R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use
Joseph Gordon-Levitt already has a well-earned reputation for being a top-notch actor. With this feature, he makes a strong directorial debut and proves he’s a top-notch writer as well. “Don Jon” is a coming-of-age story disguised as an unconventional romantic comedy heavily sprinkled with commentary on the attitudes our society has toward young women.
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) has earned the nickname “Don Jon” among his friends because he can get any girl to go home from a bar or club with him, even 10s — the hottest babes (they rate all women their age on a 0-10 scale of attractiveness). Even with all the in-person sex he could ask for, Jon finds pornography far more gratifying. For one thing, the girls in porn do whatever you want, and don’t place annoying demands on you. He picks up girls for the status it gets him, and turns to porn to feel good.
Once he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who insists on taking their relationship slowly and urges him to better himself by taking community college classes, he finds himself changing. Along the way he meets an older woman, Esther (Julianne Moore), and gradually develops a friendship with her – one that will ultimately have a far stronger effect on him than his relationship with Barbara.
When Barabara catches Jon enjoying some porn online and flips out, he has a choice: give up his beloved pornography, or risk losing his girlfriend.
This is a film that is easily mistaken for a rambling, odd romantic comedy – but under that surface, this is a story about Jon figuring out how to have a relationship with someone that isn’t just about his own status and gratification. Gordon-Levitt shines in the title role, making Jon someone we can like and sympathize with even as he’s being an idiot and objectifying the women in his life.
Moore has the challenging role of a woman at a very difficult time in her life, but she carries it with aplomb. Esther is exactly the foil Jon needs – she doesn’t care about his porn addiction or how he treats people, but she also has no problem calling him out for his behavior.
As Barbara, the other end of the scale from Esther, Johansson is flawless. Her gum-snapping, heavily-primped, leopard-print-wearing Jersey club girl performance is spot-on, and she handles gradually letting the audience see what Barbara is hiding under her sheen of perfection with a pleasantly light touch. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to think Barbara is a much better person than Jon, when they’re more like flip sides of the same coin.
This is a movie for people who hate the fakeness of romantic comedies, folks sick of seeing stalking and other unhealthy behaviors presented as romantic. “Don Jon” rewards close attention and manages to hand us comedy and tragedy almost simultaneously. As a result, it feels a lot more real than films where people live happily ever after.