Don Jon - DVD Review

'Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Jon is key to his film’s success'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes it abundantly clear in Don Jon’s opening moments that his film is a story about addiction. An ambitious choice of focus for the actor’s feature debut as writer and director, but one which Gordon-Levitt deftly makes one of his film’s strongest assets.

Choosing to make Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) a pornography addict feels like a second decision of considerable importance that could have gone either way, but which thankfully pays off in making Don Jon feel fresh and different to addiction stories which have come before it. The sequences in which Jon’s own perspective on his dependence on porn is the focus are the film’s strongest and most memorable; Jon’s vocabulary and mannerisms match the direction at these points, authentic yet subtle and incredibly impressive for an inaugural feature screenplay

Taking on the title role himself, Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Jon is key to his film’s success. Jon in many ways typifies the contemporary male musclehead: spending the days working on his body and the nights in clubs scoring women out of ten with friends Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke) before taking his pick home for the latest in a long line of one-night stands. His formulaic and misogynistic life makes Jon a difficult character to relate to or root for initially. But, through Gordon-Levitt’s nuanced performance and skilled writing, Jon is steadily crafted into a character with enough of his own idiosyncrasies and insecurities to make us want to spend time with him and follow his development throughout the film.

The mistakes Gordon-Levitt makes here come purely from inexperience, the first-time writer and director’s missteps for the most part being understandable if not forgivable. Jon’s life is essentially presented as a continuous cycle for much of the film, which can make Don Jon feel somewhat repetitive and routine in its nature. When the cycle is eventually broken however, Gordon-Levitt takes things too far the other way, making the changes in Jon’s life too blatant and broadly drawn. It’s a subtlety of touch you can imagine Gordon-Levitt will manage to develop in future films, but that he nonetheless fails to achieve effectively enough here.

Elsewhere, the script falls into the trap of several overdone indie tropes, making certain elements of Gordon-Levitt’s script somewhat predictable. Whilst Scarlett Johannsen’s performance as Jon’s “ten” Barbara is one of the film’s highlights, her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt palpable throughout, the role that her character eventually pans out to fulfil in the story is never a surprise. The same can be said for Julianne Moore, a welcome presence although hardly challenged in the role of Esther - who may as well be called “Mrs. Lonely Middle-Aged Woman In An Indie Film”. Jon’s family too continues the unsurprising trend: his father (Tony Danza) essentially an older, grumpier version of Jon who has a “difficult” relationship with his son; his mother (Glenne Headly) set on Jon finding a “nice girl” and pining for some grandchildren; and his younger sister (Brie Larson) spending much of the film silent and distracted by her mobile phone, making the moment she decides to pipe up with some sage advice feel disappointingly clich├ęd.

Don Jon ultimately feels like a relatively strong opening gambit by JGL as a writer and director. The weaknesses here are all matters which you feel will be ironed out more effectively in future films as Gordon-Levitt gains both experience and confidence off camera. It never comes close to a perfect film, but there is plenty within Don Jon to both enjoy and admire, setting Joseph Gordon-Levitt up as a multi-talented Hollywood star seriously worth keeping an eye on in the near future.





By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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