John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

Don Jon

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

MPAA-Rating: R

Release Date: September 27th 2013

There are few things that truly make title character Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) happy in the new comedy Don Jon. Spending time with his bros, approved his family and at the gym are a few of the things the Catholic character enjoys. But when he’s away from those three, more about Jon spends much of his time watching pornography. It seemingly pleases him in a way that his usual flings– with the locals he meets at a nearby bar– do not.

But early on in the story, he meets a girl named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who temporarily pushes him away from that mindset. Instead of meeting a new girl every weekend, he pursues Barbara asking all of his friends about her and slowly closing in. He eventually starts dating her but his desire for porn persists, despite Barbara’s obvious affection for him. He even needs the comfort of it after he’s slept with her.

This romance inevitably runs into road blocks when she discovers his affection for watching x-rated videos, at which point he argues that the bubbly romantic comedies she drones on about are a fantasy as well. He notes that she takes solace in fake and unrealistic stories so why can’t he do the same?

That focus on the media and the romanticization of fictional stories is one of the major themes in a story that often speaks to greater themes than its plot suggests. Writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt has attempted to craft a story here that is ambitious both in its ideas and in its overriding themes. He earnestly succeeds by crafting a relateable crew of characters that help further his ideas.

Jon’s father (played by an appealing Tony Danza), for instance, is obsessed with a different type of media. Throughout the family dinners hehosts with his wife Angela (Glenne Headly), he looks on at the television beyond the table to see what the latest football scores are. Jon’s sister Monica (Brie Larson) is meanwhile occupied as well as she spends her time texting. None of these people are paying attention to their surroundings or the real world.

They are lost in a fantasy and never satisfied being where they are.

As the story unfolds, Jon returns to school where he meets with an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore), who has more experiences facing the heartbreak and the satisfaction of the real world than Jon has ever known. Her character, unsurprisingly, is the most-fleshed out one and ultimately the most powerful one in the script. In a story where people are driven by one type of media or another, she actually seems real.

Don Jon has a few noble ambitions and ultimately succeeds at most of them. At times, some of the characters—like Barbara— seem one-dimensional but the ideas of the stories overshadow such flaws. The plot ultimately leads viewers on a story that includes some obvious characters while pushing a less-obvious theme.

It is truly however a great achievement for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to craft such a story— the first full-length feature he wrote and directed. Despite its flaws, it shows what a talent this young man is and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Review by: John Hanlon