Review: Don Jon


don jon posterDon Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's feature directorial debut, riffs on the idea of the traditional romantic comedy by giving its leading man (Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the film) a life-dominating internet porn addiction. Though he holds fast to a squeaky clean gym/church/family routine and seems to be open to finding "the one," this sex-obsessed Jersey boy has no qualms about getting off whenever he can with the help of modern technology and a parade of anonymous women.

He also pursues real women as he prowls the bars each week (hence his "Don Jon" nickname), but only for one-night stands he can later brag about to his friends. Each Sunday, he nonchalantly confesses his activities to a priest, recites his penance while lifting weights and doing pull-ups, and then does it all again.

Jon's sin-and-repent cycle is knocked off course when he meets Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson, who does the blonde bombshell role perfectly). He falls for her purely based on her looks, but as opposed to the one-sided relationships he's used to having with the women he summons to his computer screen, Barbara has demands. She thinks he should further his education and get a better job. She wants their friends and family to meet. She loves seeing cute, dumb movies and makes him watch them, too.

At first Jon goes along with this new life plan, but one of her stipulations might be too much for him to handle. Barbara is appalled to find out he watches porn (even before she knows the extent of his habit) and tells him to stop. As beautiful as his new girlfriend is, Jon still craves the easy detachment of his longtime hobby, and it's soon clear that his porn addiction isn't so much a psychological condition as it is a signifier for the fact that he has no idea how to relate to people.

Because he is so emotionally stunted and Barbara's character is never given much to do besides be bossy while looking gorgeous, what follows is a journey that soon grows a little frustrating. It's hard to tell who Jon and Barbara really are -- do they even know? They saunter around with flashy confidence, but there's not a whole lot going on beneath the facade.

The same goes for the movie, in many ways. Themes of consumerism, control, sex addiction and pop culture are introduced but never really explored. The only real moments of depth are brought by Julianne Moore's portrayal of Esther, a melancholy, pot-smoking Earth Mother Jon runs into at the night class he's begrudgingly taking to appease Barbara. Clumsily pushed into the story and not much more than a list of cliches, Esther nonetheless brings balance to the narrative and motivates Jon towards self-examination. Without her, Jon would never really learn anything; she calls him on his crap and shows him there's more out there than mindless routine and fake sex.

Along with Moore, the rest of the supporting cast manages to lift Don Jon a bit with their performances, as well. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly add a few laughs as over-the-top Catholic Italian parents, and Short Term 12's Brie Larson, unfortunately only given a small role here, makes an appearance as Monica, Jon's sister. Monica spends just about every scene absorbed in her smartphone or looking bored, but the few words she speaks are among the film's wisest.

While the script fails to offer much nuance, aesthetics and editing are where Gordon-Levitt lavishes more attention. With a blaring soundtrack, quick scenes and explicit montages, Don Jon frequently has a frenetic music-video vibe. It's carefully styled in a mesmerizing, ADD kind of way that isn't surprising coming from the founder of hitRECord, the multimedia collaborative production company helmed by Gordon-Levitt.

A talented showman with energy to spare, Gordon-Levitt delivers an attractive but shallow diversion with Don Jon. Hopefully this is just a starting point for the young director.