After years of starring in countless great indie flicks, and some not-so-indie flicks, everyone’s (or maybe just mine) biggest Hollywood Crush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has finally stepped behind the camera to write and direct his first film, Don Jon. Hearing that the 24/7 smiling charmer would finally be responsible for his own project was nearly a revelation, as JGL has hardly chosen any kind of truly bad flick to be associated with. However, hearing that Don Jon would be a comedy about a sex addicted Guido, was slightly jarring. But, you know what? My boy JGL can do anything. So I bought along with it. But now, the real question is, “Is Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first misstep?”.
JGL plays the title character Jon, who only cares about eight things in life: his body, his pad, his ride, his church, his family, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Almost nightly, Jon goes clubbing with his boys and scopes out girls to bring back to his pad to sleep with. That is until he slides out of bed late at night to sneak off to his laptop to watch copious amounts of his porn and masturbate to it, because as Jon puts it, “watching porn is better than real sex”. Then on Sundays he goes to his church and repents for his sins before joining in a nice family dinner with his Mom and Dad (Glenne Headly and Tony Danza), and his sister (Brie Larson) who spends literally the entire film looking at her phone in a bored daze. This repeats until he meets the wonderfully Jersey-fied Barbara (Scarlette Johanson). Everything then changes for Jon. That is, until ol’ Babs catches him watching his porn.
I think right off the bat, just to get it out of the way, Don Jon is not what it should be. In fact, it can’t really decide what it WANTS to be. As much as it pains me to say that, it’s true. The film, in a way, acts as two different films. The first half being a typical hollywood Comedy, and the second being a much smarter Indie drama centered around Jon enrolling himself in Community College and meeting a wayward middle aged woman played by Julianne Moore who helps him realize and cope with his Sex Addiction.
Don Jon just has too much on it’s plate. Being the first screenplay that JGL has written it makes sense that it’s overloaded with too many ideas and statements that seemingly have been on his mind for a while now. The film wants to make a statement on nearly all eight of Jon’s favorite things, as well as trying to say everyone’s addicted to SOMETHING. After a while each of those statements just become a muddled after thought. Jon’s sister is addicted to her phone? Great, where is the outcome of this. Tony Danza is obsessed with Football? You never see a realization. Of course, because the only addiction in the film that is dealt with is Jon’s Porn Addiction. Rightfully so, as the film is about him. However, when it’s made a point to say “hey look these people are all addicted to these things”, there typically needs to be SOME kind of closure.
And in all honesty, after watching a movie like Shame that tragically deals with the isolation of sex addiction, it’s a bit unnerving to see that concept thrown around as a comedy. Once the film actually starts taking the concept seriously, I guess is actually when Jon starts taking it seriously, the tone switches to that indie drama I mentioned earlier. Although, going back and thinking on this now as I type this, maybe this was JGL’s intention? That the film doesn’t take anything seriously because the title character doesn’t? If this is so, then maybe the film gets more credit than I’m initially trying to throw at it.
Bottom line is, all the performances are spot on, including ScarJo’s super over the top Jersey Girl persona and Tony Danza’s wife beater wearing, pasta slurpin’ goomba. Although it has to be said, how many times is Julianne Moore going to play this same character over and over again? Regardless, the film has ambition, and it’s not terrible. It’s definitely a bit of a fumble though. But in a way, it just boils down to Joseph Gordon Levitt trying to cram too many ideas into his first project. At the least, the dude is a great DIRECTOR, and just isn’t exactly another Aaron Sorkin. Alas, if all you’re looking to do is watch JGL half naked and having LOTS of sex, this is the ticket. If you’re looking for a flick that lives up to some of those classic JGL performances, you might be a tad let down.
I give Don Jon a 3 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper