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Film Review: Don Jon

12th November 2013

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, in which he also stars, sees him take on a well-worn New Jersey Italian-American stereotype – think The Situation; all muscle, sexual conquests and bravado. Gordon-Levitt’s Jon ‘Don Jon’ Martello Jr., as he points out in the opening scenes, has a limited remit of things he cares about: his family, church, car, apartment, women – and, more than anything, the time he spends in front of his laptop indulging in his porn habit.

Don Jon is extremely assured and confident in both direction and acting, and initially it comes as quite a surprise to see Gordon-Levitt in an entirely different role to that which we have seen before - less emotional depth, in the manner of 500 Days of Summer and 10 Things I Hate About You, immediately spring to mind when we think of his previous work. It would be easy to not take our eponymous anti-hero seriously for this reason, but Gordon-Levitt has no doubt that it is a performance he can pull off with aplomb.

Gordon-Levitt is flanked by two leading ladies, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, neither of whom are particularly likeable characters – at least at the beginning. In fact, porn addict and vague misogynist Jon is possibly the most sympathetic of all, largely due to his openness. Somehow, he does ignite feelings of sympathy, whether it’s because of the sexual rut he has found himself in, which clearly isn’t making him happy, or the relentless pressure of his Italian-American mother and her insistence that he find a ‘nice girl’ sooner rather than later.

Moore’s character Esther is perceptive, more so than we give her credit for, and has an emotional depth that Johansson, although taking on the bossy and brash Barbara well, could never hope to replicate with her chick flick loving, big-haired Jersey girl.

It might seem unlikely that a film about porn addiction could succeed at humour that is anything other than crass or smutty. However, Don Jon manages this – whilst not setting out to be bleak despite its weighty emotional aspects, the mix between comedy and drama is well-balanced. Its humour comes from the direction, which juxtaposes Jon’s aggression (shouting at other drivers whilst on his way to church) with his routine of confession, Hail Marys and family dinners.

The release of Don Jon is timely, coming at a time when porn addiction and the affect it has on real relationships is being given more debate within mainstream media. Relationship expectations that have been distorted beyond all recognition are seen in Johansson’s Barbara as much as in Jon, and the results give us pause for thought with regards to modern society and male/female relationships.

The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year to positive reviews, and hits UK cinema screens on Friday. Previously nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Actor (for 500 Days of Summer in 2010 and 50/50 in 2012), it remains to be seen whether Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut will see him pick up his first major Hollywood gongs since 3rd Rock from the Sun.   

Don Jon is released on 15th November.

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