DIRECTOR: Joseph Gordon-LevittDON-JON-Quad

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Tony Danza, Jeremy Luke, Paul Ben-Victor

RUNNING TIME: 90 mins

CERTIFICATE: 18

BASICALLY…: Jon (Gordon-Levitt) partakes in a relationship with feisty Barbara Sugarman (Johansson), but his fixed lifestyle – and especially his unhealthy addiction to online pornography – threatens to undo everything…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Rising amongst the ranks of young Hollywood actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has used his new-found resurgence into the A-game to make his own movie, resulting in the extraordinarily confident yet very slightly underwhelming Don Jon.

As first-time directors go, Gordon-Levitt has done a pretty good job at keeping everything together. The actor – who also wrote the original screenplay – knows exactly what he wants to do from a director’s perspective, and keeps his focus on the big picture instead of succumbing to the common traps of debut movies such as diverting from the main story and focusing on smaller, less important beats and characters. It isn’t perfect direction by any means, however. Scenes and devices often feel repetitive, and some of Gordon-Levitt’s stylistic choices such as various instances of seizure-inducing strobe lighting don’t always work to the film’s gain. Overall though, it’s definitely not lacking in style or substance and remains an impressive directional debut.

Even more impressive is his resistance to turn the movie into a self-righteous vanity project which it so easily could have been, and gives meatier and, in some instances, better roles to the other members of his cast, particularly his female leads. Scarlett Johansson, like Gordon-Levitt, has well and truly come into her own after her history as a child actor, and her performance as a vapid and careless femme fatale of sorts daringly plays against type. The idea is that her character’s perspective of the world parallels Gordon-Levitt’s in terms of relationships; while he wants a relationship ripped right out of a pornographic video, she desires something she constantly sees in romantic movies (which feature fun cameos from Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum and others). Both are brainwashed by the differing portrayals of relationships in the media, and as such their ideologies collide to damaging degrees. Johansson plays a frightening formation of the archetypes in the movies she watches religiously, and does effective work as her selfish dreams are unravelled by someone else’s selfish dreams.

Julianne Moore, however, is blessed with the film’s most moving dramatic performance as a mature student Gordon-Levitt encounters during night school. Her character’s sweet if blunt attitude makes her an absolute delight to watch whenever she appears on screen and Moore brilliantly brings her to life with enough pathos to make us really care for her. As we find out later in the game, hers is the only character who has had real experience with human interaction. They range from good to bad, but they’re still experiences nonetheless, and she is a vital figure for inspiring the absolute change within the main protagonist. We’re glad to have her as the mentor figure, and as a predominant figure within the film itself.

As stated, Gordon-Levitt does have a firm grasp at the helm, but occasionally he lets some things slip by. The main character himself is not the easiest person to warm to, and his daily routine laid out in detail during the film’s opening reeks of macho influence and is off-putting to the point where we’re starting to not care despite Gordon-Levitt’s omniscient charm and charisma. Thankfully, he gradually improves as the film goes on and he’s a totally passable protagonist by film’s end.

There are also notions within the story that some may see as being predictable and by-the-book, which is understandable, but in some aspects they add to the characters. For example, when Johansson confronts Gordon-Levitt over his dirty internet history, she builds up the argument moment by moment. It’s a standard Hollywood break-up argument, but that’s the key word: “Hollywood”. We’ve established that Johansson sees her world as though it were an artificial romance movie and not real-life as it really is. If anything, this scene keeps her in character because she expects it to happen as one of the cookie-cutter plot beats in one of her romantic films and is thus playing out her twisted fantasy just as her real-life relationship crumbles. This adds gravitas to the character and reminds us that the media can sometimes do drastic things to our sense of self-worth.

Or, maybe we’re looking too much into it. Either way, the plot feels familiar at times but Don Jon is still a good movie regardless.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Not quite the slam-dunk hit we might have been hoping for, but Don Jon is still an impressive debut behind the camera for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Strong performances from Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson and especially Julianne Moore, as well as a tight enough grasp in style and substance, place this movie high above other debut features and leave us in anticipation as to what Gordon-Levitt’s next trick will be.