Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Review: Don Jon

*Portions of this review were published in January as part of my coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. 


In his feature directorial debut, Sundance- and America's-darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and stars in the film) adopts an array of sleeveless muscle tees, a Joizy accent and a slicked back crew cut as the womanizing and porn-addicted Jon.

As Jon tells us himself in the first of a series of swift-cut rapid-edit montages, there's only a few things he really cares about: his looks, his apartment, his car, his family, his church, his bros, his ladies and of course, his porn. He's a relatively care-free bartender who likes to go out and is incredibly successful at getting women to go home with him and, having done that, counts the minutes for when his company leaves and he can be alone again with his computer.

But after meeting Scarlett Johansson's Barbara – played with all the gum-chewing, hair twirling patter of a Jersey Shore cast reject – Jon decides to do something unprecedented: he plays the long game, taking the time and effort to actually build a relationship with another human being. Barbara isn't won over easily, and bit by bit Jon finds himself changing to meet her expectations, most notably by delaying the physical aspects of their relationship and enrolling in a community college to earn a degree.

The movie is chock-full of things that would make my mother blush, but it’s also filled with heaps of heart for its array of loveable-while-unlikeable characters. Don Jon tells us the story of a man learning how to make connections in the real world but also paints one of the most clever juxtapositions I’ve ever seen of the way both men AND women objectify each other. Jon's unrealistic expectations of women and romance, bred by his years of heavy pornography consumption, is placed in contrast and reflection to his paramour’s obsession with derivative romantic comedies and concept of the male ideal. Which is the greater fiction? Most people would likely fall on one side of the debate, but that doesn't mean the question isn't worth asking.

Also, for a first-time director, JGL masterfully cuts the film together, using computer sound cues and tones with expert precision and perfectly sinking his cuts with the beat and rhythm of the music and story. His character's slow-burn transformation is both seamless and natural and the supporting players – particularly Tony Danza as Jon's hilariously identical father – are managed with a care and finesse that breeds believability.

As for the graphic content, which is sure to ruffle some feathers, the movie makes liberal uses of pornographic clips but Gordon-Levitt took great care to select images that arrive at the edge of, but do not reach beyond, what is typical for an R-rated movie. Don Jon is Adult with a capital A, but it is also funny, fearless and at its center is a nuanced conversation about the way we consume content and vilify the choices of others.

In the end yes, Don Jon is a movie about porn. But it's also probably the best movie about porn I've ever seen.

Grade: A

*Don Jon opens nationwide on September 27.

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