Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Don Jon (18)

My, how Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown up. Once the little kid in an alien family, now he's starring in his own film, which as well as writing it he's only gone and directed.

And blow me if the clever little sod hasn't gone and done a damn fine job (although the other men in the screening might disagree).

Because, while the film's publicity centres on JGL's Jon and his addiction to three-minute porn clips, what the film doesn't have is endless gratuitous sex scenes. Which seemed to disappoint the grown men gathered in our local World Of Cine.

What you get instead is a story about human connections, or the lack of them - from the family dining table to the bedroom, stopping at all points in between.

The story is a simple one. Jon's single, likes his sports, car, mates, the gym and one-night stands, but nothing does the trick like the fine women of Pornhub.

Scarlett Johansson's wonderfully captured Barbara Sugarman, meanwhile, has grown up on a diet of romantic comedies so has her own values and ideals based entirely on her own particular viewing habits.

The story centres on this clash of ideals, as a man not used to talking to women is forced to engage in an actual relationship with someone who likes her man to look good, better himself, but not be someone who knows about cleaning products and hoovering.

Into this melting pot ambles Julianne Moore's Esther, a classmate of Jon's at the night school he was pushed into by Barbara and her dreams. Esther's been to the school of life and knows the value of human relationships.

And so our tale unfolds.

It's a tale of human interaction, how our social connections are tempered and tainted by the media we surround ourselves with.

But it's not just about porn and rom-coms.

Jon's family has also played its part in how he deals with the world. His dad (a superb Tony Danza) can't have a meal without the match being on, meaning he spends more time arguing with the ref's calls and lack of replays than he does engaging with his family.

Not that this bothers Jon's sister as she's never off her phone, leaving poor old mum (the brilliant Glenne Headly) to keep the monologue going.

Through Jon, JGL wants us to ask questions about our relationships, how we deal with other humans, and what it is we're actually looking for (as opposed to what we think we're looking for).

It's a finely balanced study that, at times, is perhaps too subtle - leaving other characters to point out what it is you should have noticed already.

And while porn takes a beating and its impact on relationships is shown in a negative light, the fantastical world of the rom-com also gets shown up for the fiction it is.

Yes, Jon's life has got to the stage where he thinks sex should be as good as it looks online, but Barbara's own obsession leaves her chasing ideals that are unattainable while being unable to compromise or listen to reason.

One of the great things about Don Jon is the main pairing.

At first glance it would seem Jon and Babs don't really connect that well or have chemistry, but that's the point - and it's a measure of how good JGL and SJ's performances are that this is captured so well.

Neither is able to fully connect with another human being, because neither has taken the time to live in the real world and realise how humans actually are. Flawed and imperfect.

Which is where Moore comes in.

Through her, the middle ground of actual life is fed in. Slowly at first, but gradually taking over - and Moore's fragile, grounded performance is exactly what this film needs to complete the circle.

While none of the characters are classically likeable, that doesn't matter. They're flawed people taken to an extreme, and the fact you care about what happens is as much a credit to JGL's writing and directing as it is to the main three performers.

The editing is perhaps a bit too fast-paced in the first half of the film, but as this mirrors the quick flashes of Jon's porn-addled brain, it works. The pace slows and scenes lengthen as real life seeps in.

If anything left me puzzled, it was the quick dashes of Jon's in-car anger. While this presumably serves to show how frustrated he can get, it more gives hints at an underlying anger which never fully surfaces (road rage incident aside).

But such niggles are minor.

For a debut self-penned directorial effort, JLG has far exceeded expectations. He has succeeded in highlighting a modern social issue, but has done so in a light-hearted way that never preaches.

He hints at views on religion, but again these aren't preached, and instead draw parallels with how people struggle with forgiveness, or choose instant gratification.

JGL's subtle touches (Jon's decision to go play basketball for example) leave this as a layered piece, with the audience able to take away as little or as much as they want.

Go in with an open mind, and it will probably steal your heart. Go in expecting endless scenes of Kayden Kross and chums, and you'll be both disappointed and missing the point.


  1. I'm glad to hear this is good.
    I loved the premise and think JGL is an all round good egg.
    Hopefully seeing it this weekend.

  2. I'm definitely interested in seeing what JGL has in-store for us next, despite this movie just being okay, to say the least. Good review Kahn.

  3. Cheers guys - he's definitely setting himself up to be an interesting film maker