Friday, September 27, 2013

"Don Jon" review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to be one of the most likable actors out there today. In interviews, he comes off as sweet, funny, affable, charming. We all pretty much know him or know of him. He's been around for a long time, yet he's only 32. So, naturally, his directorial debut comes with great interest. He's worked with a lot of interesting directors, his film has a promising premise with an interesting point of view. After being such a likable actor for almost twenty years, could "Don Jon" be the start of a great directorial career?  The answer is... sort of.

Originally called "Don Jon's Addiction," "Don Jon" is all about its title character. He's in every scene. For 90 minutes, you are inside the mind of this muscle-bound, porn-obsessed guido from Jersey and Gordon-Levitt straddles the fine line between playful satire and flat out mocking Italian-American/Jersey culture. I was surprised by this. Why choose this particular character with these particular traits? Thing is, his characterization of Don Jon is perfectly fine. He's an interesting dude. He likes his bros, likes going home with girls at the club, likes to keep his apartment clean, often eats dinner with his family, goes to church, lifts weights at the gym, has road rage. JGL does a great job of making Don Jon feel like a real character. I just wish he paid as much attention to his supporting cast.

The one thing Don Jon loves more than anything else in the world is his porn. He gets more out of it than he does with sex, though his libido is strong enough that his porn addiction does not affect his sex life. When the beautiful Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) enters his life, however, and they begin having a serious relationship, Don Jon must make a choice. His porn or his girl. Barbara makes it clear where she stands, she's not having it. He tries having it both ways. After all, what guy doesn't watch porn? Why can't she understand that?

Barbara doesn't want Don Jon to simply give up watching porn. She wants him to go to night school, wants to meet his family, wants him to have a housekeeper, etc. Basically, she wants him to change his entire life for her. He tries. Unfortunately, it's not enough.... he just cannot stop watching porn. And he's apparently not figured out how to clear his browser history... in the year 2013.

Aside from being introduced to his parents (played by Glenne Headly and Tony Danza) and his friends, the other character of interest in 'Don Jon' is Esther (Julianne Moore). This is where the film starts to lose its edge with me. She enters his life rather crudely, as they wind up in the same night school class together. She catches him watching porn on his phone, tries striking up convo, tries to make friends, but Jon's not really having it. Tonally, her character seems off with the rest of the film. She tries to help Jon and eventually they wind up becoming friends, and something more, but something feels off about her character. We get only a hint of what her backstory is and, even then, it doesn't seem to tell the whole story. Her character seems sad, broken, desperate to make friends, and their relationship doesn't come across as being all that healthy.

Julianne Moore's presence in any film is more than welcome, she's a wonderful actress. I just wish there was more to her character than what we wind up getting. Especially considering where the film winds up at the end, their relationship just doesn't feel earned. It feels under-explored, underdeveloped, and the movie rushes to finish line without giving us more insight. The movie ends almost too abruptly. The film's brisk running time is nice, it leaves us wanting more. But, it also ends on a weird note. The last five minutes of the film feels cut from a different cloth than the rest of the film and it's a shame because things could have gone so much better. There were so many directions JGL could've gone after the midway point of the film, I'm just sad he didn't go all the way.

That said, "Don Jon" is often very charming, insightful, and occasionally very funny. It's clear that JGL has something to say with the way our culture and our society sexualizes everything. There's just a few too many problems, tonally and from a story standpoint, that keeps the film from being a success. It's an interesting debut, but I wish Joseph Gordon-Levitt would've shone the light on his colorful supporting cast instead of focusing the story mostly on him. And, most important of all, the film doesn't really have an ending. There was a nice build-up, but no money shot. Don Jon would've been disappointed.

Grade: C+

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