My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.
The film begins with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Jersey-accented voice over as Jon Martello, a New Jersey bartender nicknamed Don Jon by his buddies for his ability to pull ’10s’ types of girls every weekend at the club. The film starts off with a glimpse of Jon’s daily life that’s mapped out with almost a military precision. Right away we know that Jon is an obsessive-compulsive, he wants everything JUST SO, from the way he washes his dishes, makes his bed every morning, his workout routine, all the way to how he consumes his ultimate obsession: porn.
Bedding even the most beautiful women in chronic one-night-stands just doesn’t cut it for Jon. Only porn can satisfy his erotic itch, prompting him to sneak up to his laptop in the middle of the night, even with his sex partner of the night still sleeping on his bed! Let’s just say that I’d never hear that ‘bong’ sound of a Mac boot-up the same way ever again. Gordon-Levitt films Jon’s daily routine is in full-on satire mode. Even with the crude sexual imagery projected on screen, however revolting they are, it’s never without a twinge of hilarity and heartbreak. It’s sad to see how a Jon’s practically drowning in his addiction and being further away from making a real human connection.
Then enters Barbara Sugarman, a voluptuous blond who’s exactly Jon’s type. It turns out Barbara is quite an elusive catch. He has to wait for sex for what may seemed like an eternity for such a Lothario. Soon Barbara has Jon wrapped in her well-manicured little finger in her hard-to-get seduction game. Initially it seems that perhaps Barbara would be the making of Jon, the way she pushes Jon to realize his potential by encouraging to go to night school. She is repulsed by Jon’s porn addiction which doesn’t suit her image of what a perfect man should be. Apparently men who do their own chores is also a big no-no, as at one point Barbara berates Jon for wanting to buy a mop. ‘When we move in together, don’t you ever do your own cleaning,’ she firmly declares.
Her ideal romance is the happy-ever-after kind she sees in rom-coms, which Jon despises. The scene where she drags Jon to see stereotypical chick flicks (featuring cameos by Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway and Cuba Gooding Jr.) is hilarious, but also very telling just how doomed this relationship is from the start. In the third act, we’re introduced to an older woman Esther (Julianne Moore) from Jon’s night class. Their encounters are amusing at first but there are some genuine drama and poignant touches as well.
Kudos for Gordon-Levitt for tackling a tricky subject matter with aplomb, even if it’s not as profound as he perhaps intended it to be. He doesn’t pull any punches with the porn imagery though, which was cut down from NC-17 to get a hard R rating. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this film if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. I’m glad I gave it a shot but it’s not something I’d likely want to see again. The foul language also makes my ear burn but I guess it comes with the nature of this character. But the ugly stuff is shown to make a point and I for one don’t find any of the vulgar scenes sexy at all. In fact, it has the opposite effect, it’s as repulsive as seeing people snorting heroin or injecting drugs into their veins. There’s a not-so-subtle jab against the Catholic Church as well, but I think it says more about the superficial life of the protagonist. His “faith” is more about fulfilling a set of ritual instead of a genuine spiritual relationship.
The 32-year-old actor assembles a great cast for his debut, starting with casting himself. He’s always been a consistently excellent actor, but he takes it up a few notches here in a bravura role. I’m glad he didn’t end up casting Tatum as he originally planned which would change the tone entirely I think. Not only is Gordon-Levitt’s newly-buff physique adds to the believability of the part, he’s also got the swagger to match whilst still maintain his likable charm. Scarlett Johansson looks the part as the sexy, gum-snapping starlet, complete with her perfect manicures, hoop earrings and Joisey accent. Apparently Gordon-Levitt wrote the part for her specifically and the two have quite a scorching chemistry. At times her Jersey girl portrayal is so over the top that it verges on caricature territory however, but I think the issue is more about how her character is written.
Another quibble I have is with Moore’s character, which could’ve been a bit more developed. A moment where she reveals about her past feels a bit rushed to me, which I think is a missed opportunity. The ending also feels a bit too neatly-placed and perhaps oversimplified. That said, Moore delivers quite an indelible performance as Esther, wise but vulnerable at the same time. Their scene towards the end conveys a crucial turning point for both her and Jon. It’s amusing to see Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s hot-headed dad, playing against type for those who know him as the sweet dad in Who’s the Boss. Brie Larson as Jon’s teenage sister doesn’t seem like she has much to do, but when she does, you’ll certainly take notice.
Final Thoughts: This is quite an impressive debut from Gordon-Levitt. There’s a certain style in the way he uses repetition to illustrate various point which I think is quite effective. The interesting camera work and use of sound and music in certain scenes are also worthy of note. It remains to be seen whether he’d be as good a filmmaker as he is an actor but his work here is certainly shows plenty of promise.
So what do you think of DON JON and/or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular?
44 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut Don Jon”
Good review Ruth. I gotta say this is one of those films that I’ll probably never see. The crass and lewd content is just an instant turnoff for me. It’s really frustrating. I was anxious to see this. But when I read about it I just shook my head. I just don’t buy that you can’t make a movie, even about a subject like this, without bombarding the audience sex, nudity, and vulgarity. But such is the state of today’s Hollywood.
Anyway, I sure don’t mean to be preachy or hop on a soapbox. It just irks me a bit. 🙂
Hi Keith! I totally understand man, as you know we feel the same way about lewd content in the movies. I think the sexual content could’ve been toned down a lot whilst still making a point, but I don’t think it was as excessive as I had dreaded it would be. I also think the moral of the story (against porn and casual sex) does comes across. There are far worse films out there that use sexual content just for the sake of it, same with violence.
I saw this film this morning (review coming later tonight) as I had a good time watching it. That scene where Barbara berates Jon for wanting to get a Swiffer pad. All because he likes to clean his own pad and do it by himself. What a bitch. I like cleaning my own place. I do it every Friday. I think women would love the fact that a guy actually cleans his place and not worry if the guy is a mess.
Hi Steven! Yeah that scene is funny but also makes me cringe! Clearly Barbara also has issues other than her obsession w/ rom-coms, ahah. Yeah, who doesn’t love a partner who loves to clean, that is just messed up!
Good review Ruth. Definitely a bit messy, but for a directorial debut, I have to give my man JGL some well-deserved credit. Can’t wait to see what this guy has cookin’ up next.
Hi Dan! Yeah, it’s not a bad debut at all. I hope his next film doesn’t deal with such a crude topic though.
I just have no interest in seeing this movie, maybe I’ll watch it if it’s on TV someday. I actually know someone who is similar to the main character of this movie, this guy I worked with years ago was obsessed with porn and I mean nasty porn and he told me about the things he likes to watch. But he’s anti social and not a lady’s man like Joseph’s character in the movie; I wrote a screenplay, not finished yet, about this guy and I hope I get to make it into a movie something. Mine won’t be a comedy though, it’ll be a dark drama/thriller about loneliness, desperation and jealousy.
Oops! Meant to say: I hope I get to make it into a movie someday, not something. LOL
Hi Ted, that’s interesting that you wrote a script based on that guy. Hmmm, doesn’t sound like someone I’d want to hang out with though, ahah. Social or not, porn addicts definitely need help, pronto. I haven’t seen the film but the tone and genre of your script reminds me of SHAME.
Oh no, my script is nothing like Shame, that film was about sexual obsession. This character I based on that dude I knew is about a person who’s basically doesn’t know how to act in social situation, especially around women. He’s a bit sexist and scare of women, I’ve never met someone like him before. That’s why I decided to write this script based on him, I hope to make my first feature with this script. I don’t need a lot of money to make it since it doesn’t really have any big set pieces or special effects. I picture someone like Mark Ruffalo as the lead, I can see him playing this lonely anti social character. I’ll send you over the script once I’m done with it.
JGL is one of my favorite actors so I am really looking forward to seeing him act, write and direct the same film. This is one of my most anticipated of the year. Great review!
JGL’s always a reliable actor so his performance certainly doesn’t disappoint here Fernando. His direction has room for improvement though, but still commendable.
Good to know! Hope it opens soon!
I’m interested. I think he’s very talented — loved him in 50/50 — and am excited to see how he does here. Good luck, Joseph!
Interesting you mentioned 50/50, that’s the first role of his I saw where he totally showed his range as an actor. He’s definitely one of the most talented young actors in his generation.
No clue when I’ll get to see this because I’m so busy nowdays and there are a lot of movies I want to see a bit more, but I do hope to see it. Glad the reactions have been positive for the most part.
Hi Hunter! This film is perfectly suitable as a rental, perhaps even better that way as for me I’d have fast-forwarded a lot of the really vulgar scenes.
JGL is 32? He still looks early 20s to me! He’s definitely a talented actor and I’m glad he’s diversifying himself by directing and writing. I’m like like you…. I’ll check this out just for him.
Yeah he’s got that boyish look, probably he’d look 30 when he’s in his 50s, ahah. Glad to see a good actor branching out doing other things, esp. someone as talented as JGL!
Fantastic review Ruth. Been keeping an eye on this one and I’m looking forward to checking it out. The subject matter sounds slightly similar to Shame but not quite as heavy.
Thanks Chris! I haven’t seen SHAME but I read that there are full-frontal nudity in that one? Thankfully there’s none of that in Don Jon, though there are plenty of T&A on display in quick cuts. I’d fast forward those if I could, perhaps I should’ve just rented this one, ahah.
There is quite a bit of full frontal nudity in Shame but 1) it’s Fassbender, and 2) it’s such an amazing film that doesn’t feel out of place, it’s there for a reason. I can;t recommend Shame enough, how it was ignored at the Oscars is beyond me.
I may be the only guy who doesn’t find Johansson attractive, and she normally puts me off going to see a movie. But I do like Levitt, so will give this a shot on blu ray one day.
Y’know, my hubby doesn’t find her all that attractive either Tyson. I always find her over sexuality off-putting personally. I mean yes she is pretty but I think the more ‘subtle’ beauty are far more alluring.
JGL is sounding more and more like a man of talents, Ruth. I think I’ll give this one a go. Superb write-up, as always. I’m surprised you went for this one, though.
He is indeed Mark, perhaps one of the best young talents out there. He’s a creative guy in general, with both films and music.
Ahah yeah, I’m surprised myself to be honest, though I did read ahead of time whether there’d be full frontal nudity. Thankfully it didn’t go that far but yeah, the crude pornographic imagery did make me avert my eyes. Still extremely revolting even done in quick cuts, but I guess it’s done to make a point. As I mention to Keith though, I think he could’ve still trimmed it down and still get the message across.
I don’t think it is out here yet (so I only read part of the review), but I’m interested in checking it out.
No spoiler here Nostra, I always give proper warning 🙂
Well, if you know that I consider almost anything other than the poster a spoiler (I like to go in as blank as possible) you can understand why I haven’t read everything.
well I kind of doubted this one, but reading your review makes me interested. Go, JGL then, if it’s promising. Will check this one once it’s available.
I’d say watch with caution, Andina. Everyone’s comfort level with vulgar content is different. It’s perhaps better as a rental as I wish I could fast forward some scenes.
Great review! I’m finally getting to see this tonight, I’m looking forward to it.
Hi Brittani. Curious to hear what you think. Send me the link if you’re gonna review it ok?
I will try to check this one out when i can
Sounds good Julian.
Yep, we pretty much agree all the way here. A strong, confident debut, but the Moore character (and character arc) never felt fully realized. Nice review!
Hey thanks, that means a lot coming from you. Did you see my comment on your latest list post? Pls upvote when you can so it doesn’t get buried by the Reddit mods 😀
I’m a Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, and the rest of the cast looks great. It’s also nice to see Rob Brown (as Don’s friend) back in a film. Should see this one in the next day or two. 🙂
It’s a must if you’re a fan of JGL. He’s certainly a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood and his future is certainly very bright.
Good stuff, Ruth, though I’ve gotta admit I’m surprised to see you tackle this one. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it even with its crude material. I’m hoping to catch it sometime soon.
Hi Eric, yeah sometimes I’m willing to make an exception if the film doesn’t involve full frontal nudity though after having seen this I should’ve waited until dvd. As far as JGL’s direction though, he’s certainly a promising filmmaker, curious what he’d tackle on next.
Nice review Ruth. I can’t say I’m completely surprised about the lukewarm reception the film has been getting. It is, after all, a directorial debut, and from a young man at that. From what I’ve read in your and other reviews, JGL’s directorial effort is patchy, combining some good with some bad. At the end, I think I may end up watching this when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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