Having read nothing beyond the most basic plot synopsis for Don Jon, I was not expecting much from this screening. I assumed “Jersey-Shore style ladies’ man and porn connoisseur finds love with woman who expects him to change his lifestyle” was going to be a puerile comedy running entirely on sex jokes and cleavage shots. Combined with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s forced New Jersey accent in the opening seconds, I was mentally preparing a scathing review.
Despite Don Jon being billed as a romantic comedy, Bridget Jones’s Diary it is not. “Don” Jon Martello is a hugely unlikable protagonist; (he lists things he cares about as “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn”), with a hugely unlikable girlfriend and a hugely unlikable family.
In short, it shouldn’t work – a comedy heavily reliant on sex and featuring characters deliberately written to be as horrendous as possible. Indeed in the opening few scenes, where a suited Joseph Gordon-Levitt picks up a succession of women and waxes lyrical on the wonders of porn in a questionable New Jersey accent, one does wonder if the whole thing is going to dissolve into a comedy of cringingly awful stereotypes.
If you find yourself at such a point in the screening where you’re thinking the same thing, fear not: perseverance pays off. Julianne Moore as Esther provides a refreshing contrast to the alcohol-and-woman fuelled first third of the film, along with most of the comic moments. In contrast, Scarlett Johanssen succeeds in making love interest Barbara spectacularly unlikable. What’s most touching about the film is the development of the titular character; without giving too much away, the effect both women have on him is profound; the relationships neithera clichéd nor predictable.
Already an established actor, Don Jon is Gordon-Levitt’s directorial and screenplay writing debut, and his execution of both roles is commendable. In both writing the screenplay and playing the titular character, he is at an obvious advantage in that he knows exactly how he wants the character to develop; however, Gordon-Levitt manages both to make Jon as unlikable as he by rights should be and yet still gain a remarkable amount of sympathy for him in spite of this. Meanwhile, the directorial style is fresh and does not betray his inexperience.
Prudes need not bother rushing out for tickets to see Don Jon – for every genuinely funny moment (and there are more than a few) there is a sex scene, a porn clip or a shot of Jon barely clothed, leading to one horrified audience member at my screening leaving after approximately three minutes. However, despite the plot’s reliance on sex, one never feels as though Gordon-Levitt has included it gratuitously. On the contrary, he makes the film a commentary on sex, porn and the relationship between the two without it ever becoming tired or seedy – this is no mean feat.
Entertaining all the way through, Don Jon matures steadily, moving from a movie about young man determined to get the attractive girl into bed to a sweet, poignant and genuinely touching film. Kudos to Gordon-Levitt in his screenwriting debut for turning what should have been a wholly stereotypical and generally awful persona into a man worth sticking around for.