Porn Again

An actor enjoys his first time (writing and directing) in Don Jon.
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Posted September 25, 2013 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt rub up against each other on the dance floor in Don Jon.Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt rub up against each other on the dance floor in Don Jon.

What is it about Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the last week of September? For the third straight year (after last year’s Looper and 2011’s 50/50), the actor stars in a movie that opens on this particular weekend. Now comes Don Jon, which is actually written and directed by Gordon-Levitt, his first such effort in both capacities. Like those other films, it’s well worth a look.

He portrays Jon, a Jersey bartender who devotes large portions of his life to scrupulously maintaining his sculpted body, sweet sports car, and neatly kept bachelor pad. He has tons of sex with women but admits that it’s never as satisfying as the sex he has by himself when he’s watching porn. Even when he starts dating a pile of hotness named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) whom he picks up at his bar, he doesn’t stop surfing the net for sexual material. He just starts hiding it, since Barbara thinks porn is disgusting. In fact, she’s such a traditional girl that she gets truly upset when she learns that Jon cleans his own apartment. Her ideas about love are shaped by crappy Hollywood romances.

OK, it doesn’t take a genius to call this one: Jon and Barbara’s viewing habits have stunted their emotional lives and given them unrealistic ideas about relationships. As a filmmaker, Gordon-Levitt isn’t quite there yet. The jointures in the script are easy to see, and as a director, he sometimes doesn’t know when to dial back on the Joisey atmosphere, especially in the scenes with Barbara (Johansson is not at her best here) and with Jon’s doting parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly).

Still, his movie is punchy, quick on its feet, and frequently funny: “Condoms are the worst, but I use ’em,” Jon says, “because unlike porn, real pussy can kill you.” The director skillfully underscores the routines of Jon’s life by using rhyming shots, filming Jon’s walks to his gym and his confessions in church from the same angles. There’s a terrific running gag, too, regarding Jon’s sister (Brie Larson), the Silent Bob of this movie, who is always texting someone, only pausing slightly to register what’s going on around her.

The best thing in the film is Julianne Moore as Esther, an older woman in Jon’s continuing education class, who dispenses wise relationship advice when she’s not bursting into uncontrollable and seemingly unprovoked fits of crying. There’s too pat an explanation for this, and the role could have easily been a rickety construct, especially since she ends up teaching Jon what real sex is. Yet the great Moore turns her character into the movie’s most compelling figure. Her private pain and cavalier disregard for small talk (“Are those people fucking on your phone?” she asks Jon out of the blue) all spring from an identifiable personality. Don Jon is a fair amount of raunchy fun, but Esther is what stays with you.

 

Don Jon

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, and Julianne Moore. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Rated R.

 


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