Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, “Don Jon,” is the story of a bridge-and-tunnel Lothario whose lady-killing routine is turned on its head when he meets his match in the bossy “dime” Barbara Sugarman, (played by a perfectly cast Scarlett Johansson).
Jon’s (Gordon-Levitt) prowess with women is legendary-his friends call him “the don.” He’s got a different girl each night, church on Sunday, and dinner after with his hilariously stereotyped New Jersey-Italian family. And this is the way Jon likes it. His mother bemoans his single status, but Jon’s list of priorities, repeated throughout the film as a mantra, is “my body, my ride, my pad, my church, my family, my boys, my girls, my porn.” And this is Jon’s problem: he likes the ladies (and they certainly like him), but unfortunately none of these real-life women have come close to the caricatured porn stars whom Jon has devoted years to enjoying.
The moment he locks eyes with Barbara Sugarman, he finds himself to be the hunted instead of the hunter. Jon and Barbara’s relationship progresses slowly—Barbara is the kind of girl who wants to meet the parents before she puts out—but when they eventually settle into a rhythm, the differences in their personalities quickly become evident. If Jon represents the classic, egotistical, male persona, reducing women to numerical scores and unable to understand the fundamental disconnect between porn and sex in real life, then Barbara embodies a complementary female character. Obsessed with romantic comedies and expecting her own life to resemble one, she sets about playing a parallel game to Jon’s: he’s trying to get into her pants; she’s trying to make him fit the mold of a Disney prince. Jon still can’t quit the porn, and this becomes the fundamental issue in their outwardly happy relationship.
Gordon-Levitt has amassed an all-star cast, and the movie has the feel of a project that was very fun to work on. Tony Danza and Glenne
Headly typify the traditional husband/wife dynamic in their fits of exasperated screaming, momentarily contrasted with memories of their original romance. Brie Larson is hilarious as Jon’s detached younger sister, eyes glued to her smartphone, only speaking up once during the course of the whole film. Julianne Moore’s performance is equal parts fragile and comic, and interestingly, it’s only through this dichotomy that her character is able to see through Jon’s shellacked Guido persona to access the real person underneath.
“Don Jon” was originally titled “Don Jon’s Addiction” when it premiered at Sundance in
January, but the more serious title was dumped for wide release. Similarly, audience members might miss Gordon-Levitt’s more subtle points behind its wickedly comic surface. It’s a smart and highly enjoyable movie, addressing issues of perception, persona, and real versus imagined desire. And if Gordon-Levitt capitulates with a Hollywood ending, well, it’s his first movie after all. “Don Jon” promises an interesting career for Gordon-Levitt on both sides of the camera.