If you've ever known someone from the East Coast, you'll know they operate with a more...honest nature. If they're in a bad mood, they tell you; if they love you, it's unconditional and usually followed by a crushing hug. For those of us transplants whose overly-gracious nature is missed on West Coast folks, it can be a difficult adjustment. For those West Coasters who might stumble upon the terrific comedy Don Jon, you're in for a schooling on East Coast Attitude 101. Hilarious, irreverent, and totally on the edge of good taste, Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial acumen will also impress with great performances about a guy with two sexual obsessions.
Jon (Levitt) is a classic New Jersey boy obsessed with sleeping with as many women as possible. Young and filled with an over-inflated view of himself, Jon and his buddies troll the bars assigning numbers to women before hitting on them. Jon definitely gets the best of this game, fornicating with dozens of ladies but never quite happy with the results. You see, his other obsession - watching porn - consumes his post-philandering activities. He spends hours trolling the Internet for unrealistic clips of women bowing to man's every whim, while his real-life experiences never quite match up. Soon, he meets the 'dime' Barbara (Scarlet Johansson), who won't get freaky with him until he makes a few changes. Gone are evenings out with the guys, as are any events in which her increasingly demanding needs aren't being met. She also wants Jon to go to school, and so he ends up in a boring college class seated next to the much-older Ester (Julianne Moore), who too often breaks out in tears, making Jon wonder why he's drawn such an unlucky straw. As he struggles to keep his obsession of porn away from Barbara, Jon's over-reactive parents (Glenne Headly and the A-shirted Tony Danza) relish in the idea that their son has finally grown up. But temptation is never too far away; can Jon stay on course with Barbara, or will his 'activities' catch up with him?
If you remember our affection for 2012's independent hilarity in For a Good Time, Call... you'll know how much we love off-the-wall comedies. What takes Jon to a new level is its actors: Levitt is outstanding as a Jersey Shore who finds himself in front of his computer too often, while Johansson creates the perfect diva for the big screen. Their interactions feel real, as do those of his family who remind me of the boisterous atmosphere of my Brooklyn youth. Headly's hilarious over-reactions to Jon's situations are as honest as any New Jersian, New Yorker, or Rhode Islander I've ever met, but it's Levitt's sex-addicted Jon who's the ringleader of this affair. From Looper to Inception, Levitt seems able to seamlessly insert and immerse himself in his roles, becoming that person and not merely inhabiting them. And while character actors are sometimes scorned by a disconnected Hollywood, those who do it best make everything they touch that much better. Levitt is also an excellent director, using the camera to innovate rather than to follow in someone else's footsteps. His unique angles, along with Editor Lauren Zuckerman's offbeat selections of pornographic content, make for a weird mix that's instantly and strangely entertaining. Some will no doubt be grossed out by the sheer amount of sex in Don Jon, but don't rail on the cast and crew who mostly rise to the occasion.
The problem here is Moore, whose older motherly role doesn't make sense for Jon. A former stunning leading lady, Moore seems confined here to a somewhat impactful secondary role. True, her character is meant to be plain and grieving, but I think Levitt goes too far in trying to make it work and ultimately picks the wrong actress. Their burgeoning relationship just doesn't make sense for a guy obsessed with porn, distraught over the breakdown in his relationship and struggling to find himself. While an extra 5 minutes of expository would have cleared that up, it's Moore whose casting doesn't quite work. But this minor issue won't be the reason why audiences might skip Don Jon, as it's definitely an independent comedy deserving your attention. The characters are enjoyable, their situations ridiculous, and West Coast crowds will finally get to see a real Italian household at dinnertime.
The weird and wacky Don Jon is not for everyone for obvious reasons. It's crass and disgusting, but at its heart Joseph Gordon-Levitt has produced a winner. I hope audiences take a chance on films like these, Rush, and The World's End, because it's here that mainstream and innovative can happily co-exist. For now, add this film to your list, and check any inhibitions at the door. You'll love yourself for doing so...but hopefully not like Jon 'loves' himself. Don Jon is rated R for...well...everything and has a runtime of 90 minutes.
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