Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s directorial debut, certainly means well. However just because a film means well doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to be a good film and unfortunately for audiences, Don Jon isn’t one. Despite its sterling supporting performances and interesting subject matter, the film feels like little more than an exccericse for a man tired of being solely in front of the camera.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Don Jon, a man who only has a few cares in the world: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Renowned for his ability to pull women, Jon basically lives the “dream” life. This is all slightly upended when he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) the woman who makes him want to be an “honest” man. But issues arise as the couple progresses in their relationship and he’s forced to evaluate his life.
Though the majority of this review will be negative, Don Jon does have two major redeeming qualities in Scarlett Johansson and Tony Danza. As two big forces in Jon’s life, these two actors make the most of the scenery chewing characters they’ve been given. Danza especially excels as Jon’s foul mouthed father. Many are throwing around awards season talk about Scarlett Johanssen, and though I don’t see it, she gives a great performance that relies as much on her acting choices as her physicality.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mutlihyphenate work on this film is a mixed bag. As an actor, he manages to have chemistry to everyone in the cast and yet, he doesn’t really register in this role. JGL, trying out a Jersey accent and overwhelming machismo, just feels off until he gets to the more emotional scenes, which feel more in his wheel house.
As a writer, JGL’s script seems to be only serving himself in terms of character arcs. Though the script is very funny, I found the jokes to be more surface laughs, by the time the next one hits you’ve basically forgotten about the last one. That probably has to do with the fact that this film is a bit unbalanced and unsure of what it ultimately wants to say. Joseph might think he has a clear view of the hang ups in modern relationships, and admittedly the first half of this film is pretty great in terms of that, it all but crumbles when Julianne Moore’s wise older woman enters the film and Jon’s relationship with Barbara gets rocky. What’s so disappointing about this film is that JGL does have a strong foundation to build on and yet he takes the story in such an odd place that robs you of much resolution. It makes no sense to have everyone else seemingly understanding what’s wrong with Jon to only have him just reconcile all of this at the end in some voiceover. Why couldn’t his character come to these realizations on his own? This movie will also depend on how you feel about viewing porn, but I don’t think JGL does enough in this film to explain how a man being addicted to porn and a woman addicted to romantic comedies are comparable.
It’s also worth nothing that the film, while it does contain some thematic visuals, is pretty devoid of any kind of distinguishing style of Joseph’s directing. Accomplishing much of it’s thrills through editing, the direction left a bit to be desired, never getting close or far away enough, although he does manage to get pretty good performances from the actors in the film.
Don Jon, for all that it has going for it, just can’t seem to get out of its own way and the final impression the film leaves is not a positive one.