Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the perfect example of how well a child star can turn out. Since his childhood spent making us laugh in 3rd Rock from the Sun Gordon-Levitt has steadily been building up an acting CV filled with impressive roles in both indie fare and mainstream blockbusters. Now to impress us further he has written and directed his own feature in which he also stars. Oh Joseph, is there anything you can’t do?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon, a man obsessed with his car and his body and who is nicknamed Don Jon by his friends because of his unbroken streak of taking home a different woman every night they go out. Much as Jon loves these illicit encounters there is one thing he loves more than sex; Jon is addicted to porn. While a real woman comes with limitations and complication with porn Jon can find exactly what he wants and lose himself in a way he has never been able to achieve with sex itself. The wide variety of porn available at his fingertips has warped what Jon expects from a real life sexual encounter and his streaming smut is something he refuses to give up.
One night at the club Jon comes across the first woman who doesn’t fall for his charms and somehow manages to NOT go home with him. This woman is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and she isn’t going to let Jon get her in bed without him first playing along with her idea of what a relationship should be. Barbara does not approve of porn but has a weakness for romantic comedies (cue an amusing parody with Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum) which has warped her own expectations of what men should do for their woman. Jon and Barbara go through the motions of a relationship as they meet one another’s friends and family but Barbara can’t live up to Jon’s pornographic ideals and he isn’t the romantic lead she’s looking for. With the help of a classmate, at the night school he attends to impress Barbara, an older woman called Ester (Julianne Moore) Jon learns that there’s more to life than porn.
Gordon-Levitt directs with a confident and deliberate style with an almost aggressive use of carefully cropped pornographic clips which are frequently utilised throughout the film to show how Jon’s world is warped by the contents of his internet browser history. As a writer he has crafted a film that strays from the usual path and tells a unique story of one man’s personal growth that is as far from cheesy or saccharin as it is possible to be. Gordon-Levitt has a lot he wants to say about the way the media as a whole gives us dangerous levels of expectations from our significant others and at times the message gets a little heavy-handed but when the film is working at its best the lesson is deftly handled.
The highlights of the film for me were Jon’s weekly trips to church during which he would confess the previous seven days worth of sins, his sexual exploits are counted up for the Father’s benifit, followed by a family dinner. It is at these meals that we see what has made Jon into Don Jon with his aggressive vest wearing father (Tony Danza) and fawning mother (Glenne Headly) who are two fantastically realised caricatures. Brie Larson makes a mostly mute, and a slightly too brief, appearance as Jon’s sister who seems mostly disinterested in her family but offers him the best advice of the film.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first foray behind the camera is not perfect but is a bold and commanding debut with a lot to say. Somehow he manages to tackle a tricky subject without making the film seem cheap or smutty. I think his success can be marked by the fact that a sex scene towards the end of the film had the woman sitting next to me in floods of tears after having spent the rest of the film laughing out loud.
Don Jon screens at the festival on the 20th October and is in UK cinemas on 15th November 2013.