If you've been reading The Independent Critic for any length of time, then you should have already caught on to one very basic but important fact about my cinematic opinions.
I despise "perfect" films.
I despise films that look perfect, act perfect, sound perfect, and do everything so freaking perfectly that watching them feels a lot like that feeling you get when you visit a relative whose home is so perfect it's uncomfortable. It's not that I deny their "perfection," but these films seldom capture my real passion or my top ratings because technical perfection does not, at least in my world, equate to a truly outstanding moviegoing experience.
I say these things because Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon is not a perfect film.
Don Jon is, however, a truly outstanding moviegoing experience.
There will be those of you who will proclaim that I am biased by my known fondness for Gordon-Levitt's work. While this is a fair and reasonable conclusion, the more accurate truth is that everything I love about Gordon-Levitt as an actor comes alive when Gordon-Levitt goes behind the scenes as first-time writer/director for this film.
In other words, much like Gordon-Levitt the actor it's true that Gordon-Levitt the writer/director makes bold statements and takes risks that far more experienced directors wouldn't dare take. Gordon-Levitt possesses an artistic integrity that is rare in Hollywood today, yet he manages to do so while also producing a film that is surprisingly market friendly given its rather "alternative" subject matter.
Don Jon may not be a perfect film, but I loved every minute of it.
The film centers around a guy named Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), I'll confess that given what I'd heard about Don Jon prior to seeing the film that I expected for Martello to be your stereotypical macho stud caricature, but I'd apparently forgotten that Gordon-Levitt has never been prone to creating stereotypes on the big screen. Martello is definitely the kind of macho stud who hangs out with the guys, visits the clubs and manages to bed a different hottie every night. He loves his parents, played quite well by Glenne Headly and a terrific Tony Danza, and he seems to live a blue-collar playboy's idyllic life.
Oh, and Jon is addicted to porn.
While some might say that ain't no big thang, it's an awfully big problem for Barb (Scarlett Johansson), Jon's new girlfriend who is quite a bit different from the vast majority of the girls who preceded her. Rather wisely, however, Gordon-Levitt doesn't exactly paint Barb to be the symbol of normal against Jon's quirks as Barb struggles herself with a rose-colored view of sex and romance that proves to be a stark contrast to Jon's more hardcore desires.
When Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), he begins to get an entirely different perspective from this older and wiser female influence.
While a good number of filmmakers would have been tempted to turn material like that presented in Don Jon into something tawdry or campy, Gordon-Levitt does a terrific job of finding a balance of heart and humor with the film and wraps it all with a laid back honesty that fits the atmosphere perfectly. While most wouldn't really suggest that a first-time director actually direct themselves, Gordon-Levitt's vision for the film is so clear and spot-on that it works quite nicely. As Jon, Gordon-Levitt convinces as a man who is comfortable with a life in which his masculinity is neither preening nor mask but merely how he's learned to express himself. Gordon-Levitt plays it all low-key, an approach that makes his eventual inner conflicts all the more compelling and, at times, downright funny.
Scarlett Johansson is also perfectly cast as Barbara, a woman whose addiction to rom-com fantasy is as dysfunctional as is Jon's porn obsession. She nicely plays out the scenes where the differences between she and Jon become obvious even as the two are obviously still attracted to one another. As Jon's Dad, Tony Danza turns in a top notch performance. On the other hand, Julianne Moore feels a bit off as the "older woman" Esther mostly because she's never been quite convincing in scenes requiring tremendous vulnerability. It doesn't help that her character, along with that of Glenne Headly, feels a bit under-developed.
Don Jon isn't a flawless film, but it's a tremendously entertaining and thought-provoking film that proves without a doubt that Gordon-Levitt could easily transition to behind-the-camera should he so desire. Gordon-Levitt has a clear artistic vision and a boldness and courage as a filmmaker that makes every shot interesting even when it doesn't quite gel. While the film's adult themes may scare away more timid moviegoers, those who venture out will be rewarded with one of the fall season's most rewarding romantic comedies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic