As Don Jon’s (2013) opening credits present a series of images highlighting the objectification of woman in the media, juxtaposed with a thudding and syrupy romantic score, it’s clear something a little different is at work in Joseph Gordon-Levitt directorial bow. While he may make the odd narrative misstep here and there, this is a decent first-time effort for the actor, and yet another string to the bow of his hitRECord multimedia production company. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, a swaggering buffed-up metrosexual who connects more with the exaggerated, hyper-sexualised women on his laptop than he does with his flesh and blood conquests in the bedroom.
While Jon may live a life consisting of porn, partying and push-ups, he’s is a still a good Catholic boy at heart. During Confession he happily reels off the multitude of sins he’s committed that week (mostly masturbatory), and he always finds the time to visit his loving parents, even if his loud, unrefined father (an hilarious Tony Danza) is often hard to stomach. Into his neatly arranged world steps Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), whom Jon instantly falls for. Due to her obsession with glossy Hollywood romance flicks, Barbara has a traditional outlook on fledgling relationships, and insists on an sex-free courtship – much to the chagrin of the libidinous Jon. Can love conquer all, or will porn prove too alluring a mistress?
But as an intimacy and love develops between them, the stranglehold that porn still has over Jon looms large, although he’s not the only one whose ideas of perfection need challenged. Managing to avoid the ego-centric trappings which can occur when a star makes that progression to the director’s chair, Gordon-Levitt isn’t afraid to let the loutish, less appealing traits of his character bubble to the surface. He’s undoubtedly learned some tricks from his past collaborators too, as he manages to pull off some nice visual flourishes behind the camera (his ‘bouncy porn’ routine montage sequences would almost certainly have Darren Aronofsky nodding wildly in approval).
If Jon’s overly-macho, gym bunny persona and the ‘Noo Joisey’ accents on display sometimes veer close to stereotype, Gordon-Levitt’s relaxed performance and his fine supporting cast manage to keeps things largely grounded. In fact, the film’s ace up its sleeve comes in the form of Julianne Moore, who really excels as a troubled mature college student, helping Jon realise and finally confront his addiction. While there’s nothing hugely innovative in the material, Don Jon breezes along with a welcome humour and arch sexiness, refreshingly free from the kind of unrealistic platitudes inherent in the hopelessly idealistic films Johansson’s Barbara adores.
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