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New Release Review - Don Jon

A porn-addicted ladies' man struggles with real life relationships.

Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson


Jon (Gordon-Levitt) leads an uncomplicated life based around cleaning his apartment, attending his church, working out at the gym, indulging in casual sex and masturbating religiously to porn. He actually prefers porn to real sex, as his partners never live up to the fantasies he watches on screen. As a result, he never spends more than one night with the same girl, until meeting businesswoman Barbara (Johansson), a perfect "dime" in his eyes. Barbara refuses to sleep with Jon initially but when they eventually get it on, Jon is once again let down. Catching him watching porn to make up for his poor sexual experience, Barbara gives Jon an ultimatum: choose between her or porn.
In his debut as director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows much promise, keeping his movie visually interesting throughout. In his debut as writer, however, it seems he needs to study the art of storytelling a tad more as his script is awkwardly constructed and lacking in originality. 
'Don Jon' is very much a message movie, presenting us with a character who, through the course of the movie, will come to learn an important lesson about life, love and humanity. The message in question is as tired and cliched as they come: "People need people". We've seen this ground covered far more successfully in movies like James Toback's 'The Pick-Up Artist' and the Weitz brothers' 'About a Boy'. The movie that seems to provide most inspiration for Gordon-Levitt is John Badham's kitchen sink disco epic 'Saturday Night Fever', with its world of Guido machismo.
The portrayal of Italian-Americans here is as cliched as it gets; the men wear wife-beater vests and constantly slurp on spaghetti while the women fuss over them in the background. With the exception of Danza, none of the actors actually come from Italian backgrounds, which makes this feel like some sort of Mediterranean minstrelism. This is the second movie I've seen this week (the other being 'Blue Is the Warmest Color') that seems to think the working class live on a diet of spaghetti.
Gordon-Levitt is one of the most likeable young actors around but the character he portrays here is anything but. This is problematic, as Jon is front and center, narrating the story. By the time he begins to redeem himself you'll probably have lost patience with his misogynistic outlook. Jon's complaints about women had me wondering just what type of women he's meeting and made me question if I had just been incredibly lucky in my own encounters in comparison. Johansson is terrible, as always, and isn't remotely convincing. We're asked to believe Barbara is a sophisticated businesswoman but this is impossible when Johansson plays her like a brain dead bimbo. 
Julianne Moore enlivens things as an older woman who teaches Jon how to enjoy sex but her character arc feels rushed and she's essentially shoehorned into the film's final act to relate the film's message. Larson, so great in her lead role in 'Short Term 12', is truly wasted in service of that old cliche of a character who remains silent throughout before delivering a nugget of wisdom at the film's climax.
On the evidence of 'Don Jon', Gordon-Levitt has much potential as a director but work is required on his writing skills.
5/10


Eric Hillis