Levitt’s Inexperience Shows But The End Result Holds Up…No Pun Intended
The transition from actor to director has always been a fascinating journey. Sometimes they rise to the challenge like Affleck, Eastwood and Howard. Other times it doesn’t work out quite so well. Apologies to Eddie Murphy, Stallone and Robert DeNiro. It’s just a different animal to go from being inside a single character to looking at the big picture of a full film production. The newest member of the crew is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 50/50) with his first feature length, Don Jon. Despite some common first timer pitfalls, the movie succeeds in painting an entertaining picture of a Jersey bro-douche’s growth and self-awakening.
The hair jelled club goer in question is Jon, an early twenty-something who seems to have it all. A pad he loves, close ties to his Italian family, his pick of the short skirted Snookies at his favorite night spot. That and a pretty wicked porn addiction. Throughout the film, Jon meets two women: his dream girl, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and a middle aged hippie chick named Esther (Julianne Moore). Through these two very different ladies, Jon begins a journey of emotional connection and discovery.
Problem is, the above synopsis goes way deeper than the actual film does. Levitt’s direction is quick and energetic but he never makes a strong attempt to connect Jon to the audience. Jon, as a character, is pretty hard to stomach. While he respects his family, goes to church and keeps a tidy place, he’s still has a caveman’s attitude to the opposite sex. With no other driving motivation to keep us engaged, it’s hard to care what happens to him one way or the other. Levitt is quite good in the role and his charisma keeps us in the seats, but it’s a shallow experience.
Both female leads do a fine job in their respective parts. Johansson sizzles as the object of Jon’s desire and Moore is fantastic as the lady he actually needs. Moore in particular gives the film a much needed charge of depth and intrigue. Sadly, her contributions only come after 45 minutes of clubbin’, screwin’ and hard R-rated quick cuts of porn actresses doing their thing. While the setup proves important in the film’s final third, those who are squeamish concerning the subject matter may want to think twice before a viewing.
All that said, everything here is done with the best intentions. The problems arise from first timer mistakes from Levitt the director. Set aside the threadbare story, ignore the stereotypical Jersey Italian family run-time fluff, cast aside the thin story. The main issue one of motivation. Despite the script driven drama of his favorite alone time activity, there’s never any severe consequences for Jon’s addiction. Plot moving events occur due to his issues but Jon shrugs through them and as a result, we’re never convinced he needs to give his wrist a rest. I’ll say it again. Jon is a very tough character to feel anything but “meh” for.
Despite all the issues, I still enjoyed this more than last week’s Prisoners (review pending publication). While Prisoners was a more accomplished film in execution, Don Jon wins out on the back of the sheer energy of its direction. It’s nice to see a director “go for it” and Levitt does exactly that in his first feature attempt. It has some rough points and if you’re older than 25, there’s nothing to learn but as a breezy, visual experience, Don Jon serves its purpose as pure entertainment. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hasn’t completely avoided the failed side of the actor turned director list, but unless he directs Harlem Nights 2, it’s safe to say he has a promising career behind the camera.
Score: 7.5 out of 10