‘Don Jon’ is blunt, brutal and brilliant

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in 'Don Jon'
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Don Jon’

“Don Martello” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a chip off of the old block in a number of ways.  He is grounded.  He cares about his family, his car, his apartment, his male friends, his church, the women he sleeps with and most importantly, his internet porn.  This is a story of a man obsessed and how he chooses to deal with that obsession will shape his future.

He and his buddies frequent nightclubs in search of women and if they aren’t at least an eight on their rating scale, Don isn’t interested.  Nor is he interested in anything more than a one night experience, especially since he finds masturbating to internet porn so much more satisfying than he does having sex with a woman.  Except of course, as he explains in narration, whenever he’s close to the moment of climax and the porn clip he is using as inspiration cuts to a shot of the male actor doing it to the female that is the object of Don’s desire.  Then he loses interest.

Scarlett Johansson in 'Don Jon'
Scarlett Johansson in ‘Don Jon’

All is well until he meets “Barbara” (Scarlett Johansson) one night.  She’s a solid 10 and for her, Don is willing to do things differently.  Take it slow, go by her schedule.  Of course once he’s nailed her he will move on, or so he thinks.  But he’s fascinated by her as she slowly wraps him around her little finger.  Eventually they begin having sex.  Then she discovers him doing his porn thing and she makes him promise to never do it again.  A promise he can’t keep; however, he rationalizes that lying to her about it is okay.  As we see her exerting more and more influence over his life it is obvious that he’s going to get busted and soon.

One of his classmates at the local community college that Barbara convinced him to attend in order to improve his lot in life also catches him watching porn, on his smartphone.  “Esther” (Julianne Moore) has no problem with it and the two begin to communicate just a bit. When Barbara discovers that Don has been lying about breaking his promise, she dumps him.  The best part of the film is the journey of self-discovery that he goes on from this point, with some help from Esther.

Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are classmates in 'Don Jon'
Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are classmates in ‘Don Jon’

It’s a solid debut for a first-time writer/director, even more worthy of note when you add in the fact he was in charge both in front of and behind the lens.  Most actors can direct others but don’t do so well at directing themselves.  The exceptions, like Clint Eastwood and Kenneth Branagh (there are others) tend to stand out and it looks like Gordon-Levitt may belong on that short list.  Johansson is solid, Tony Danza memorable as Don’s father and Julianne Moore is exception in the most layered character in the film.  A very promising initial effort from Gordon-Levitt and hopefully he will only improve.

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