SUNDANCE: Don Jon’s Addiction (***½)

DonJonsAddictionScarlett-Johansson_Joseph-GordonLevitt-first-lookJoseph Gordon-Levitt makes an incredibly strong directorial debut with Don Jon’s Addiction, an outstanding take on romantic comedies. Writing and directing as well as taking the lead role, Gordon-Levitt nails each part of the equation, making for easily my favorite film of the Sundance Film Festival so far. JGL is great as the title character, but Scarlett Johansson is really terrific too, while Tony Danza steals every single scene that he’s in and Julianne Moore is her reliable self. This tale of a modern-day Don Juan dealing with porn addiction and female objectification is peddling not just sex, but a message as well. There’s plenty of nudity and barely covered up shots of porn too, but this never becomes exploitation and actually has more in common with ‘Shame’ than you’d initially expect. Funny and warmhearted, the flick should be a hit when it gets its inevitable 2013 release, though it might need to undergo some trims to avoid an NC-17 rating. Regardless, this is a great movie and not only my favorite of Sundance so far, but my favorite of the year now.

For Jon (Gordon-Levitt), it’s all about the superficial things in life. He goes out and consistently tries to sleep with the hottest women he can (ideally 8’s, 9’s, or 10’s on his rating scale of 1-10), but none can compare to the pornography he constantly watches. Sex is great, as he tells us in one of his voiceovers, but it doesn’t hold a candle to porno. Jon is forced to play the long game when he meets Barbara (Johansson), a “dime” who won’t give it up as easily as he’s used to. They actually begin a real relationship, with Barbara slowly changing Jon through the tease of impending intercourse. Of course, she doesn’t know about his porn addiction, and when she finds out, it’s safe to say that she’s not too pleased. On the other hand, night school classmate Esther (Moore) doesn’t have a problem with it at all. With Jon facing potential changes in his life for the first time in years, he actually confronts the fact that he may have a problem. While the plot doesn’t necessarily sound like anything spectacular, it’s the execution that makes this so special and such an incredibly entertaining film.

joseph-gordon-levitt-don-jons-addiction-sundance-film-festival-2013Joseph Gordon-Levitt has never quite played this type of a role before, but somehow he’s a natural for it. Taking a cue from the nincompoops seen on ‘Jersey Shore’, he’s crafted a modern-day Don Juan who’s likely to be seen as disgusting just as often as he’s seen as being charming. That’s completely intentional and JGL has an absolute blast with the part he’s given himself. A similar kind of role was given to Scarlett Johansson, and she’s just about as impressive. Gordon-Levitt really knew what he was doing when he cast her. Johansson plays up her sexiness, but also hints constantly at what else Barbara has going on, both in terms of good things and bad things as well. Their chemistry together is impeccable. The same can be said for when JGL is with Tony Danza, who’s hilarious as Jon Senior. Danza will easy be one of my favorite supporting players of 2013 for the foreseeable future. Julianne Moore enters things later than everyone else and is playing a slightly more subdued character, but she’s quite strong as well. Moore is never bad, and this is no exception. Her scenes with Gordon-Levitt in the third act are really great. Also on hand are Brie Larson and Rob Brown, but JGL, Johansson, and Danza are the shining stars.

Not only does Gordon-Levitt have a strong visual sense on display here (one that actually recalled the early films of Paul Thomas Anderson at times for me), he’s proven to be a great writer as well. The script is perceptive about both genders, brutally funny, and emotionally honest. As a director, he lets his actors have space, but he doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff at all. His screenplay could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, but he knew to keep it for himself and the result is exceptional. My favorite scene is an extended one where he details the ways in which watching porn and masturbating is superior to actual sex. It’s a riot.

Don Jon’s Addiction was an absolute treat to watch and the highlight of Sundance. Everything about it worked and I can’t wait for it to get picked up for release. I’d expect a summer release, but that’s just a hunch on my part. The sooner the better for you all to experience what I just did. Joseph Gordon-Levitt can really do it all. I look forward to his future behind the camera now just as much as his future in front of it.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!