Monday, September 30, 2013

Movie Review: Spectacular 'Don Jon' takes hard look at relationships

This column was originally published in the KPC Media Group newspapers and online at Read the original column here. Republished on The Pop Tarts with permission. 

Last summer, I could see that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's star was rising. He was the star of three movies ("Looper," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Premium Rush"), all of which I enjoyed immensely.

But Gordon-Levitt has taken his career to a new height as not only the star, but also the writer and director of the spectacular "Don Jon."

"Don Jon" follows Jon (Gordon-Levitt), a young New Jersey man who lists Internet pornography among the most important things in his life. It's not that he's not successful with women - he is the king of one-night stands - but he doesn't find those nearly as satisfying as the dirty movies he watches later on the Internet. This causes major problems when he attempts to woo the gorgeous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who is disgusted by his obsession. Along the way, though, he meets the quirky Esther (Julianne Moore), and it's only through talking with her that Jon is able to begin to take a hard look at his life.

"Don Jon" is a challenging movie. It comes down hard on the unrealistic expectations that pornography gives to men, but it really portrays it as just one of the symptoms of a much larger problems in our culture. Jon is addicted to pornography and unable to truly be intimate with anybody because of the steady diet of artificiality he gets from his videos. But he's definitely not the only one with issues. From the first moment they meet, Barbara knows exactly how to use her body, her feminine charms and Jon's desires to manipulate him into being the person she wanted him to be. And it's no wonder, when Hardees commercials featuring a woman in a bikini suggestively eating a sandwich are playing in the background at family dinners. Meanwhile, Jon's dad (Tony Danza) is giving him a wink and a nudge as he checks out Barbara's backside, while Jon's mom (Glenne Headly) practically begs him to give her grandchildren. The pressure from all sides is amazing when it's laid out like it is in this movie. When it's paired with Jon and Barbara's unrealistic expectations of each other, it's no wonder that they can't have a healthy, functional relationship to save their lives.

Gordon-Levitt really lays out the message in "Don Jon," and he's not afraid to take an unblinking and, often, shocking look at the false, damaging way that sexuality is portrayed. There are a lot of clips of X-rated videos scattered throughout the movie, but it's far from titillating. Instead, the dozens of clips show just how desperately Jon is searching for a real connection, and how horribly wrong he's going about it. The clips also build throughout the movie, offering a great contrast when Jon finally begins to take tentative steps toward building a deeper, more intimate relationship with someone.

"Don Jon" leaves the audience with a lot to think about it, but it is also an entertaining, funny and romantic movie. The characters feel like real people, and despite the fact that many of them are deeply flawed, there is something incredibly endearing about them. Jon, the main character, is a little skeezy during most of the movie, but Gordon-Levitt does such an excellent job giving him layers and making him a sympathetic character that, despite everything, it's not hard to root for him. Scarlett Johansson is much the same in the role of Barbara. In the end, although I hate the way she acts, I can't entirely blame her, and I ended up just feeling pity.

Despite being one of the best movies I've seen in months, "Don Jon" does have some issues. As much as I liked the uplifting ending, it is a little forced and comes across clunkier than it should. I felt like Gordon-Levitt wasn't quite sure how to make his final point, and so he settled on telling the audience the moral of the movie outright. It's a rookie mistake, but it's one of the few missteps Gordon-Levitt makes. The movie is very well-shot, with a clear, brutal message. This is the first time Gordon-Levitt stepped behind the camera for a feature film, and all I can think is: "I can't wait to see what he does next!"

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.

(Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use. Runs 90 minutes.)

No comments:

Post a Comment