DON JON (2013)
Before I get into actually reviewing this film, I have to say that being from Northern New Jersey all my life, I was a little insulted by the fact that writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays pretty much everyone in his Garden State set movie as a Sopranos/Jersey Shore reject. The scenes with his Jon Martello and his dad Jon Sr. (Tony Danza laying it on really thick) in their matching ‘wife beaters’ and gold chains at post church Sunday dinner could have fit into either one of those shows without missing a beat. I’m not saying there aren’t people here that fit the stereotype but, c’mon… we don’t all talk/act like that and the clowns on Jersey Shore weren’t even from Jersey. But, ironically, I do think that in the context of portraying those stereotypes, Levitt and his cast… especially Johansson… gave really strong performances. They did make their characters work and gave them life beyond the stereotypes but, I was irked that this is how the Texas born Levitt sees us all here in N.J which is a pretty diverse state. But whadda ya gonna do…eh? Fuggedaboutit!
Objectively, Levitt’s directorial debut isn’t that bad. It’s an odd little romantic comedy/drama about Jon Martello (Levitt) a young man whose lady killer skills are renown in his hood, hence the moniker “Don Jon”. But, despite his ability to have a different girl in his bed every week, Jon is addicted to internet porn and actually prefers it to real intimacy. Real life sex never lives up to what he sees on his lap top. Jon then meets and falls head over heals for the beautiful Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, who hits it out of the park with her stereotype Jersey Girl) and begins a torrid relationship with her. But, despite the heat in the bedroom, Jon still can’t kick his torrid relationship with Pornhub.com… that is, until the manipulative Barbara makes him take a night business course and he meets quirky older woman Ester (Julianne Moore). Now Jon must decide where his heart really lies…control freak Barbara, the sweet but odd Ester… or with his box of tissues. Can Jon finally give up his digital fantasies for real intimacy or will he stick with cyber love? I won’t say Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut is bad. It’s not. He actually does give the film his own style and gets good work out of his cast. It’s a well made and directed little movie. But, it also strongly gives the vibe of being a vanity project where the writer and director creates a character for himself that is a hot looking, jacked-up Romeo that can get the most beautiful girls in the bar into a cab and his bed with little or no effort. And he casts one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses to play his lover with multiple make-out and love scenes. The film is entertaining and has some laughs but, the obvious vanity of the role is intrusive. And let’s face it, even at under 90 minutes, the story of a guy with a porn addiction is not exactly feature film length material and the thinness of the story also shows as, once we reach the film’s conclusion, we realize we really didn’t go all that far. The plot could have been handled in a half hour sit-com episode or an hour TV drama at most. A feature length film is pushing it. There are a lot of scenes of him in front of a computer watching his favorite skin flicks, we got the point about 5 scenes back, and there are the numerous scenes of him at church and then dinner with his family after. I understand he was using this to show his characters progression but, they start to feel like we are re-watching the same scene rather quickly. It gets repetitive. The thing that really works is the performances. Despite my bitching earlier about the use of exaggerated stereotypes as characters, the actors really do good work in portraying those stereotypes. Levitt… who I’ve been a fan of since 3rd Rock and Brick is good and very charming as ‘Guido extraordinaire’, Jon. He’s a simple guy who loves his single guy lifestyle and is not anxious to see it go despite his mom’s (Glenne Headly) pressure for grandkids. Perhaps his addiction to porn and aversion to an intimate relationship is his way of preserving that life. Odds are it is. Johansson is borderline brilliant with her portrayal of a stereotypical Jersey girl complete with the accent and expressive hand gestures, talking while waving her perfectly manicured nails… I’ll admit, these girls do exist and I have encountered them and Johansson nails it with the nails. Danza is a little much with his Jon Sr. I will admit I have never been a fan of Tony Danza, he’s like the 70s Ashton Kutcher. You just keep wondering how he continually gets an extension on his 15 minutes. But, he lays it on thick as the ‘Goombah’ dad and sometimes it’s grating. Moore is spared a Jersey stereotype but, does play another stereotype, the quirky soul who you would find reading poetry in a Village coffee shop and probably has a lot of crystals and incense in her house but, she is an exceptional actress and gives Ester a very human quality and when she reveals her inner pain to Jon, it is a very heartfelt scene. Much like the other leads, she turns a stereotypical character into a three dimensional person which is the film’s saving grace. And that is what elevates Levitt’s filmmaking debut above it’s flaws and made it enjoyable enough to watch, despite some annoyingly stereotypical characters and a thin and sometimes crude story, the actors made real people out of caricatures and in the end you did root for Jon to find intimacy that didn’t require a laptop. The actor/director also has a great chemistry with both his leading ladies which also makes things work far better then it should. Levitt does show potential here as a filmmaker. Interesting to see what he comes up with next. Also stars Brie Larson as Jon’s sister Monica who spends 95% of her role ignoring everyone around her while texting. The character literally speaks once.
Film earns a few extra points for filming in Hackensack, N.J., which is in my neck of the woods, and for Scarlett being volcanically hot.
3 Jersey Girl Johanssons… the film really deserves 2 and 1/2 but, I don’t have the heart to chop the lovely Scarlett in half…