Having worked under the tutelage of some of Hollywood’s finest directors in his twentysomething years in the industry, it would be safe to say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has had a masterclass in the art of filmmaking en route to making his first feature. Rather than play it safe, Gordon-Levitt has admirably chosen to tackle the delicate subject matter of porn addiction with his London Film Festival offering Don Jon (2013), applying all he has learnt and more in what is a smart, funny and insightful debut. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, whose few loves in life include his body, his car, his apartment, his Church, his friends and his ‘adult entertainment’.
Nicknamed “The Don” by his buddies for his impressive ability to pull a different woman every night out, not even one night stands can prove a satisfying substitute for a few blissful minutes on his laptop. That changes when Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), an attractive old-fashioned Catholic girl who has her own media-formed expectations of the opposite sex. Slowly but surely, Jon awakens to the idea that he needs to make some changes if he is to find true intimacy. Mishandled, Don Jon could easily have been viewed as a vanity project, but the sharply-written, perceptive script keeps the film on track. It’s not a typical rom-com, but its keen observations on the media’s role in conditioning us make it relevant.
Proceedings do drag a little in the final act, but the character growth is well-earned and crucially authentic. More than just the script though, Gordon-Levitt proves himself a student of film with a strong sense of voice. There are plenty of visual and aural flourishes throughout that succeed in accentuating the way Jon’s beliefs are changing. That’s not to say there aren’t missteps along the way – a running confession gag is used too often, for instance – but by and large the directorial decision making is savvy. On camera Gordon-Levitt is just as proficient; though many of Jon’s actions and commentary are crass, he brings believable swagger to the role that makes Jon enjoyable to watch.
The supporting cast is also universally excellent. Gordon-Levitt wrote the role for Johansson, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing her. She has great chemistry with Gordon-Levitt and nails the Jersey drawl to boot. Elsewhere, the often underused Tony Danza provides plenty of hilarious moments as Jon Sr., whilst Julianne Moore is well cast as Esther, Jon’s source of enlightenment. Combining wit, smarts and heart to good effect, Don Jon is evidence enough that Gordon-Levitt’s filmmaking future is extremely bright.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.