Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the latest actor to make the jump to writer/director and the results are a tad mixed, but the film shows promise for the future. Don Jon has some deep storytelling flaws and suffers from being slightly uncertain about what kind of film it wants to be, but it makes up for some of that with charm and pitch perfect performances.
JGL plays Jon who is a playboy charmer who can bed any woman he wants with relative ease. He has the looks, the body, the car, the pad, and the attitude to ensure that he always has a different lady to take home. What the women don’t know is that Jon has almost no interest in them. He is addicted to porn and the women in them. Real women just can’t live up to the porn star wildness that he watches online. Then he meets Barbara played to Jersey perfection by Scarlett Johansson. Barbara is smoking hot and won’t put out on the first night which drives Jon crazy. Jon becomes infatuated with Barbara and before he knows it he’s a one-woman man. One real woman anyway. Barbara is everything he thinks he wants except for in the bedroom. Barbara just can’t grab Jon’s attention the way porn does.
Barbara suffers from her own kind of delusional addiction, although hers is societally approved. She has rom-com fueled visions of what relationships should be and her fantasy world doesn’t always match up with what real men can offer her. She believes Jon is wrapped around her finger as he even signs up for community college classes at her insistence. Everything seems to go smashingly until Barbara checks Jon’s internet history. Jon and Barbara must then figure out how to destroy their delusions or the relationship is doomed.
Gordon-Levitt is proving to be a gifted filmmaker and likely has a bright future in the director’s chair. There are a few film-school angles that jar the story rather than help, but overall he shows great competency behind the camera. His true brilliance in Don Jon is bringing out the best from the actors around him. Scarlett Johansson is wonderful in this film. She truly shines in every scene and her Jersey girl with high class aspirations demeanor holds up throughout the film. This performance is by far her best in ages.
Julianne Moore makes the most of her scenes as Jon’s classmate at a community college course by bringing a warmth and realism to what is otherwise a role that is wholly unnecessary except as a plot device. Moore captures the uncertainty behind the eyes of a woman completely lost in her own life. Furthermore, and most importantly, she provides a spark to the film just as it starts to sag.
Don Jon’s glaring fault lies in the screenplay, specifically the advancement of the plot. Gordon-Levitt’s dialogue is spot on and never feels fake, however, he doesn’t seem to know how to get his characters where he wants them without serious and unrealistic plot tinkering. For example, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore) when he enrolls in a community college course. The problem with this is that he has no reason to be in the class. He doesn’t want to be there and Barbara insists he attends for reasons that are murky at best. The true reason he is there is to meet Esther who can provide life lessons for Jon to learn. There could have been an authentic relationship between Jon and Esther somehow, but the college course smacks of laziness. Gordon-Levitt will need to sharpen his screenwriting chops for his next feature.
The premise of Don Jon is solid and shows great potential, but ultimately it falls short of being a great film because it skirts the truly dramatic implications of the set up in favor of charm and light laughs.