Or...Palatable Porn Predicaments
It was somewhat inevitable for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to try his hand at the whole directing thing. After all, the actor had existed on the fringes of filmmaking for ages, making several well known indie flicks like (500) Days of Summer and 50/50. While he had taken detours into more mainstream projects, even those have come under the watch of unorthodox directors like Rian Johnson and Christopher Nolan. The passionate attitude towards filmmaking directors like those carry had to have been infectious and likely helped spur Levitt’s entry into the taxing world of directing.
His first feature, Don Jon, made a splash at Sundance and while it didn’t light the box office on fire, it at least made it known that Levitt was not playing things safe. The actor has been using his clout to to further very out of the box projects through his HitRecord program, and now Don Jon was the culmination of sorts for all such endeavors. The premise (a man played by Levitt that has a porn addiction) was obviously not the kind Warner Bros. could release in April to financial success, but it was the kind of project that showed off Levitts strengths as both a supporter and creator of boundary pushing entertainment.
Thankfully, the movie itself lives up to all the credibility Levitt received with it. From the opening moments, one gets an immediate feeling of being in experienced hands, the kind of talent that can easily take an off-putting premise like this one and turn it into a watchable venture. The montage that starts the picture may actually be one of it’s highest points, as quick cuts show us all the pornographic images Don Jon surrounds himself with, all while the titular protagonist narrates his daily routine. The quick cuts between the super adult images and his outings with his family, to the gym, and to church make for an effective juxtaposition that immediately drew me into this world.
Actually, juxtaposition is an appropriate word for the film, especially in the way Levitt stages many important aspects of the feature. My favorite is the appearance of different environments in the story; Don’s apartment constantly has a seedy look, and the shooting style takes on a shaky-cam method to match the frantic emotions Don feels. In scenes centered on his new girlfriend Barbara (played beautifully by Scarlett Johansson), bright colors abound and everything’s perfect, a little too perfect. Scenes with Julianne Moores character Esther take on a more realistic vibe to match the balance Don feels around here. This attention to detail really helps the movie flourish and let it’s subtle, yet not so subtle, message hit with extraordinary results.
Levitt takes on a Jersey accent playing Don Jon, and man alive, for some reason I loved that voice of his. Somehow, Levitt uses that accent to make sure that every syllable that pours out of Don’s mouth seems to come alive with an equal mixture of bullshit and conviction, as he fends off change to his perfect little world. Once again, Levitt’s attention to detail comes into play, and thankfully such thought extends to the other cast members. Moore has a casual feel to herself, which nicely allows the brutal truths she tells Don to come across as effective without feeling intrusive. Johansson, one of the most talented actresses working today, does a great job oozing manipulation at every turn, every opportunity, every chance she can to turn Don into her dream personification of a man. She also makes sure the films only extraneous sequence, which depicts Don and Barbara reuniting in a brief cafe encounter, is bearable.
It’s a pity the aforementioned scene is in the film at all, since it feels like a cliche the whole affair is way above using. Otherwise, the movie wisely strays from what's come before and instead boldly blazes it's own storytelling trails. Perhaps the boldest thing that's accomplished is in making Don Jon at all bearable as a human being. In 2013, we saw a lot of deplorable human beings (i.e. Jordan Belfort, Jasmine), and admittedly Don isn't quite as bad as those two, but his shallow look at relationships and women certainly don't do him any favors. Still, his commentaries about sex are humorous, simply in the amount of detail he's analyzed in there that once again juxtaposes how much he knows with how much he's truly clueless about.
There's a lot of ideas thrust into Don Jon, and admittedly, not all of them bubble to the surface perfectly, especially it's ideas on religion. However, those missteps are extremely rare in this excellent movie that doesn't shy away from digging into some heavy stuff while also somehow keeping things as loose as Don's hair is greasy.