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Friday, September 27, 2013

Film Review - Don Jon

When watching those TV spots for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's new film, Don Jon, you forget it has anything to do with pornography like the original trailer suggested.  Those 30 second ads play it off like a typical love story, a romantic comedy about a tough guy playing hard to read and a tough girl playing hard to get.

The film written and directed by Gordon-Levitt does not forget.  At all.  Pornography is front and center the entire running time.  That's not saying it's a porno, just the topic of pornography works as a motif that mirrors the world Gordon-Levitt created for his characters and story.  It's a strong message that one doesn't expect a first time writer-director to convey so eloquently and so entertainingly, but Gordon-Levitt does it as smooth as Don Jon's slick back hair.

Don Jon centers around Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), who has been branded the nickname Don Jon by his boys due to his ability to score a chick every weekend.  He's a simple person.  He only cares about a few things in his life: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and...his porn.  Nothing compares to his porn.  That is until he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful, smart, old fashioned girl who might be the one if they can find a mutual understanding.

Gordon-Levitt commands the screen as Don Jon, a character that we've never seen him embody, and it's refreshing to see him continue to take risks in his acting career even after transcending into the mainstream.  His transformation into this big-headed, East Jersey, Italian American, oozes of machismo, but manages to keep it from becoming a parody of what could have been a one-note character.  Scarlett Johansson is also unrecognizable as Barbara Sugarman, looking more like Jessica Alba or JLo (or maybe its just the accent and incessant gum chewing) and manages to imbue every word in a veil of sexuality.

These aren't your typical characters in a romantic comedy.  Jon has a porn addiction.  Barbara has control issues.  In both cases, both have these expectations of what a relationship should entail and because of these expectations, it is doomed to fail.  Gordon-Levitt rips a page from Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving and dissects everything that goes into relationships, love, and gender roles in a society that has all those defined for us in his first script.  The screenplay works on many levels and never knocks you over the head with its observations and comparisons to society.

The supporting cast consisting of Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, and Brie Larson to just name a few are also great, clocking in some memorable performances with characters that are just as dynamic as the main ones.

But all these great performances aren't just by accident.  One can see that Gordon-Levitt knows how to hone in on those great performances due to understanding the actor's process and the mindset it entails.  He manages to capture those intimate moments that might not even be evident to more established directors.  Even though I would like to see him direct something that he hasn't written, Don Jon is a great launching pad for his directing career.  If Ben Affleck stole Batman from Gordon-Levitt, then maybe Gordon-Levitt can take away some Affleck's directing chops. So far, so good.

Overall, it's a very light-hearted film that has a lot to say.  Hopefully, it will get the recognition it deserves regardless of its taboo subject and not disappear among all the serious fare that have less to say during awards season.  Definitely a must see.

10 of 10 Hail Mary's

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