Don Jon – 2013
Written and Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Tony Danza
There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that Brie Larson is featured in not only this film, but she is also a player in The Spectacular Now. Each film features a man working through some type of addiction. The latter features someone hooked on alcohol, whereas Don Jon‘s protagonist, Jon Marello, Jr. (Gordon-Levitt) is hooked on porn.
Each lead has a rational explanation of their choices, and when they say it to themselves, it makes perfect sense. As they try to progress in a relationship, their vice presents a roadblock to real deep commitment. His family always has their eyes anywhere but on each other. His father (Danza) looks at the television, his sister, (Larson) never takes her eyes from her handheld, and her mother looks emotionally exhausted from one to the next. Jon’s mind is preoccupied, of course. The relationship is with a “dime” (Johansson), and she starts a lot of good things in his life, but after catching him in a lie about it, she calls it quits and he goes into a tailspin.
Along the way he comes across Esther (Moore). She has some perspective on what he is going through. Her vantage is colored by her experience and she tries to expand his mind on the goal and make it more subjective. That she has her own issues to deal with should come as no surprise. This is Julianne Moore, after all. Nonetheless, their interlude has a certain awkward tenderness that really exemplifies growth on both of their parts. This whole section of the film is a welcome addition, even though I am not that big of a Moore fan.
Johansson has absolutely no appeal to this reviewer, and this role is no exception. She’s T&A with a Jersey accent. When contrasted with Gordon-Levitt, Danza and Headley’s lived in performances, she falls flat. She’s from New York, but watching her made me feel like I was watching someone from California doing a decent Jersey Shore imitation. When Larson speaks up for the first time in the film, one can’t help but be thankful. Her lines are so wise and they hit the nail on the button.
That is the pleasant surprise of Don Jon, and the thing that takes it above the typical addiction story. It’s not about swearing off of something and just not doing it. The answer, simply, is can you notice someone when you are with them. Do you know who you are with, and can you look them in the eyes.
The lone weak spot in the film is with the depiction of confessions in the Catholic Church. Gordon-Levitt, who is Jewish, approaches the concept in the same lazy manner in which he is depicting the clergy as doing. This is not to say it is intentional to make it look like absolution is a scam by folks who aren’t even interest in feigning interest, but this depiction has been expressed in too many films to be coincidence. Having been raised in the Catholic faith, I have never and don’t ever recall hearing of a priest that approached the practice in such a way as to resist contemplating the thoughts and feelings of their flock. I certainly never experienced it firsthand.
The story is not primarily about this, though. It’s about consideration, giving and receiving. It never feels good if it is just one way.
(****1/2 out of *****)