Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a talented dude. His acting bona fides are well established and go all the way back to when he was the cute kid on the sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun.”
Now with his writing/directorial debut, “Don Jon,” he proves he has some serious chops behind the camera as well.
You can, however, tell that this is a first effort. Gordon-Levitt shows off all the tools and ability of a great director (and to a lesser degree a highly serviceable writer) but he just can’t quite put it all together.
He delivers the goods by taking his characters from Point A to Point B in a compelling and kinetic way, but he never satisfactorily explains how and why they got there. Much like my high school geometry homework, Gordon-Levitt gets the answer right but he fails to show his work.
This turns out to be the difference between something truly special and something that’s not half bad.
But still, not half bad is markedly better than the majority of writers and directors can claim on ever their eighth and ninth attempts so at the end of the day “Don Jon” winds up as a win in JGL’s column.
This is especially true if you factor in the degree of difficulty involved in making a lighthearted romp about porn addiction.
Gordon-Levitt also stars as the titular Jon, a handsome mook who very successfully trolls New Jersey’s finest nightclubs for hotties with the envious approval of his buddies, Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke).
Yet no matter how many women he beds, Jon can’t find a single meaningful relationship among the lot because every sexual encounter pales to the thrill he gets from internet pornography.
Even still, he seems fairly content with his life. He works as a bartender and he goes to church and the gym with and an equally religious fervor. He cheerfully confesses his sins at the former and serves his penance at the latter.
Jon is dutifully close with his family even though his mother (Glenne Headly) is constantly needling him to settle down, his father (Tony Danza, in quite possibly the role of his life) is a perpetual antagonist and glimpse into his own future as they both dine together in their finest muscle shirts and his sister (Brie Larson, a fine actress kind of wasted in this Silent Bob role) never looks up from her phone.
Things change for Jon when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a vision of Jersey class who is so gorgeous she is able to actually get Jon to take her out on dates and enroll in night school before she agrees to have sex with him.
But even Barbara can’t make Jon turn away from the siren call of his porn; he is only forced to get better at hiding it. Seemingly stuck, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore) at one of his night classes.
Esther is a basket case who is nothing short of an alien in Jon’s world, but the two strike up an unlikely friendship that forces Jon out of his comfort zone and makes him look at everything in his life a little differently.
Gordon-Levitt packs his acting performance with a lot of charm so you can’t help but want to root for him. Even though the movie does have its problems, Gordon-Levitt does have some nice things to say. I especially liked the case he made for Hollywood romantic comedies being their own kind of pornography.
He is a confident director as his choices are bold and his camera is never static. “Don Jon” is not great, but it bears the mark of potential greatness and Gordon-Levitt has a fine future as a director in front of him if he so chooses. I mean, if Ben Affleck can do it, why not JGL?
“Don Jon” is rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language, and some drug use.