Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Don Jon Martello
Scarlett Johansson as Barbara Sugarman
Julianne Moore as Esther
Tony Danza as Jon Sr.
Glenne Headly as Angela
Rob Brown as Bobby
Jeremy Luc as Danny
Italia Ricci as Gina
Lindsey Broad as Lauren
Amanda Perez as Lisa
Sarah Dumont as Sequins
Sloane Avery as Patricia
Loanne Bishop as Barbara’s Mom
Arin Babaian as Bartender
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
If you’ve already been impressed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s transition from a child television actor to a popular and well-loved A-list actor, one who regularly supports individual creativity, then his directorial debut “Don Jon” (formerly “Don Jon’s Addiction”) should give you an even great respect for the actor-turned-filmmaker.
We’ve seen Gordon-Levitt play lots of memorable characters before, but none like “Don” Jon Martello, a character he created entirely from scratch, not only developing him as an actor, but as a writer and director as well. In the first few minutes of the movie, the clean-shaven Italian American explains via a deep voice-over his manifesto to life which involves watching porn and going on the prowl for women at the club with his “boys”–two friends not quite on Jon’s level whose discussions mostly involve rating women.
Watching Gordon-Levitt picking up women with just a glance, grinding against them on the dance floor, making out with them and then taking them to his spotless apartment just adds to the mystique of the character, but when he and his boys spot Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara Sugarman at the club, Jon thinks he’s found his “10.” Barbara is unlike other women in that she won’t sleep with him right away, giving Jon a challenge that he feels is worth it. Not that it matters since Jon prefers masturbating to porn over having actual sex, dissecting his sex clips like a critic might a work of art to find ones that give him the most satisfaction. Jon’s favorite pastime starts to become an increasingly larger problem as he starts to develop feelings for the attractive Barbara and things start getting more serious.
Considering the serious nature of sex addiction and how it’s been depicted in films like “Searching for Mr. Goodbar” and “Shame,” it’s interesting to see how Gordon-Levitt uses it in a humorous way without using Jon as a caricature to make this a “character comedy.” Even though the movie does involve sex and relationships, it’s not exactly a “romantic comedy” either, which may be why it’s able to diverge from the typical comedy formulas and story structures we’re used to.
Gordon-Levitt has clearly learned a lot from being in great movies like “(500) Days of Summer” and “50/50,” which is not to take anything away from his achievement, but you really need to know what a good screenplay is before you can write one yourself, and the screenplay for “Don Jon” is absolutely brilliant. While the character might seem miles away from the nice guys Gordon-Levitt has played, he brings the same confidence and swagger and charm he’s brought to those roles and therefore makes him just as relatable as others.
Much of the first half deals with the relationship between Jon and Barbara and how he must change his life to allow this relationship to grow. Johansson is surprisingly funny as Barbara, who knows she’s sexy and uses it to put lots of demands on Jon, having lots of big ideas about love and what her man should be like. She’s just as much a stereotype as Jon, but they’re both grounded in real people and how they behave. When Barbara learns about Jon’s porn habit, she flips out and breaks up with him. This leads into the third act and the real growth for the character comes when he meets the older Esther, played by Julianne Moore, while going to night school at Barbara’s behest. She’s nothing like the women Jon picks up in clubs or watches online, but she offers him enlightenment about what’s wrong in his life and why he can’t find happiness in his sexual relationships.
As much as the film deals with sex and masturbation, Gordon-Levitt’s character is rounded out by the fact he’s a devout Catholic who goes to church with his family, which may seem contrary to that type of character, but it’s the way he justifies his womanizing and his masturbation regiment. On top of that, every Sunday night after church he has dinner with his family, which brings another level of humor with dinner sequences similar to “Silver Linings Playbook” as Jon is constantly arguing with his father–a very funny performance by Tony Danza, who hasn’t been in that many films–and Jon’s mother–the always great Glenne Headly–who just wants Jon to settle down with a woman and give her grandkids. Brie Larson may seem wasted as Jon’s sister since she’s always texting on her PDA but she’s given a good moment later.
The movie does get a bit repetitive seeing Jon go through all the same motions–from his apartment to the gym, to the club, to church and family dinner–over and over and over, but it’s through this repetition we’re allowed into the character’s routine and how he must break away from it on his journey to discovery.
The Bottom Line:
A truly original character piece, hilariously funny and poignant, “Don Jon” may be tough to market to mass audiences, but there’s enough humor and heart that more people will be able to relate to the characters than they’ll care to admit.