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Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 12:00 am

Don Jon an entertaining look at skewed expectations

 

If Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a director proves anything, it’s that he’s a filmmaker to watch. With Don Jon, he not only tackles the thorny issues of sexual addiction and the media’s impact on our perception of the world, but he ably uses editing, camera movement and pace to create an aesthetic that reflects the themes he’s exploring. Having written and taken on the title role in the film as well, it’s obvious that Gordon-Levitt had his hands full and if there’s room for improvement, it would be in the screenwriting department. A faulty third act prevents this from being a completely successful directorial debut.

The film hits the ground running. It’s established early on that Jon is a creature of habit. He goes to church every week, visits his parents each Sunday for dinner, works out constantly and watches online pornography many, many times a day. The intensity and frequency of this act is effectively reflected by a series of ribald images that are edited together at a rapidly building pace that abruptly comes to a halt once Jon has … seen enough. He thinks this normal, reasoning that all men his age engage in this sort of activity. However, a fly is thrown into the ointment of his routine when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a veritable force of nature who, on the surface is Jon’s ideal woman. However, things hit a snag when she discovers (pokes around and finds) her new boyfriend’s extracurricular activities and leaves him. This sends Jon, as well as his parents (a very good Tony Danza and Glenne Headly) into a tailspin. They’ve all fallen under Barbara’s sway without realizing how self-centered she truly is.

While it may be a bit of a stretch, Gordon-Levitt makes the argument that women who buy into the fairy tale vision of the typical romantic comedy are just as damaged as men addicted to porn. Both walk away with unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex and relationships. Jon expects his partner to not only be physically gorgeous but willing to participate in sexual acts that are deemed normal in the world of pornography but may seem deviant to others. Similarly, Barbara’s expectation of being swept off her feet by a knight in shining armor who gives up everything to make her happy is equally unrealistic. These Venus and Mars points of view may not be as common as the film makes out, but they serve to make an effective point regarding how the media shapes our perceptions of ourselves, our world and those in it.

It’s a valid criticism and one that’s effectively made at turns both comic and dramatic. The film is quite funny without ever being condescending, always conscious to render the characters in a sympathetic and human light. That being said, the final act feels a bit too calculated and convenient. While attending night school, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), a much older woman who ultimately takes him under her wing and helps him develop a more mature outlook on life and relationships. Gordon-Levitt falls into his own trap by casting someone as attractive as Moore in the role of mother/Madonna/whore. This is a film fantasy in and of itself. Once we get Esther’s backstory, while tragic, it feels as though she’s been sent over from central casting. Still and all, the first of hour of Don Jon is so well-made and thoroughly entertaining that one can forgive its third-act faults and hope that Gordon-Levitt can finish a bit stronger the next time around.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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