Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, produces and stars in Don Jon, a new romantic comedy about a New Jersey meathead who falls the girl of his dreams and has to balance his new relationship with his massive porn addiction. It is indeed a love story for the modern era.
Cheap shots aside, the film is Gordon-Levitt’s first attempt at writing and directing and he handles both far more confidently than most first-timers. Don Jon is surprisingly funny and unafraid of its subject matter, though it doesn’t treat the main character’s dependency on pornography with the same gravitas as Steve McQueen does in Shame, that’s probably because they’re two different films with two very different character motivations.
The titular character’s love of porn serves as less of a heartbreaking compulsion and more as a metaphor for being overstimulated while being personally unfulfilled. There’s something honest about how Gordon-Levitt addresses his character’s love of XXX videos and imagery and how he uses it as a stand-in for a meaningful relationship.
In between the many porn references in Don Jon, you’ll find Italian stereotypes that don’t stray too far from what we’ve seen perpetuated on The Jersey Shore or whatever’s on now in that show’s place. Jon and his cronies routinely go out to the club to smash chicks. He’s a devout Catholic and he follows confession every week with Sunday dinner at his parents’ house where he and his father (played by Tony Danza) have verbal sparring matches over meatballs while wearing white tank tops. That sounds like a lazy description of something from a “Things Italians Do” YouTube video, but it’s actually a cornerstone of the movie.
Scarlett Johansson plays Jon’s love interest, bringing out her best Jersey accent and is a good sport to wear the amount of animal print that she sports in the movie, but ultimately, she has nothing to do here other than to look pretty and motivate Gordon-Levitt’s character to do something with his life. There’s nothing really nuanced about her performance and while she has her own baggage, it’s never really explored or given the due it deserves. Julianne Moore‘s character fares a bit better, but no one’s going to remember this role a year from now.
But much like the main character, there’s a tender heart to this movie, once you get past all of the artifice and posturing. Don Jon doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and the brisk runtime allows it to tell a simple story about a guy who had one expectation and definition of love and how the real thing ended up being totally different. The characters, as unrealistic as they may be, are likable and warm. And the movie even comes away withs some well earned sweet moments too. It’s an entertaining movie that doesn’t aspire to be much more than that. And that’s just fine.