Don Jon: written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jon), Scarlett Johansson (Barbara), Julianne Moore (Esther), Tony Danza (Jon Sr.), Glenne Headly (Angela) and Brie Larson (Monica) (2013): A surprisingly witty and accomplished first outing as a writer-director-star for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The studio marketed Don Jon as some sort of obscene laugh-riot last summer; it isn’t. It’s a comic drama about how cultural fictions can overwhelm an unquestioning consumer, leaving him or her either eternally unsatisfied or the eternal unsatisfier.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the eponymous Jon. Despite being a smooth operator when it comes to getting sex in the form of one-night stands, his greatest sexual satisfaction comes when he watches porn. But he does form a relationship with Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara. However, she’s only satisfied if she can get her love life to fit the formula of the dreadful romantic comedies she devours as ravenously as Jon does money shots and DP’s.
Almost everyone else in the movie appears to be isolated in their own little fictional world as well, to the detriment of both communication and happiness, or at least personal fulfillment. Jon’s mother agitates for him to get married and have children. His father espouses the central importance of family even as he ignores his in favour of the Jets game on TV.
Jon’s friendship with an older woman in his night-college class (Barbara coerces him into taking the class so he can improve himself and become a white-collar worker) eventually shakes things up, along with an assist from porn and Jon’s desire to clean his own apartment, a desire Barbara decries as unmanly and demeaning in one of the more uncomfortably funny scenes in the movie.
Don Jon may be a bit too schematic, and its ending comes in a rush (ha ha). But it left me wanting more, not less, and I’ll be interested to see what Gordon-Levitt comes up with next. Recommended.