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Fall 2013 Movies: “Don Jon” is Raunchy, Bittersweet

Fall 2013 Movies: “Don Jon” is Raunchy, Bittersweet
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Despite working almost non-stop since the late 80s and appearing in two Christopher Nolan hits (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt retains an air of anonymity and mystery. You won’t read about him in the tabloids, and even though he has starred in such Hollywood junk as “G.I. Joe: the rise of Cobra”, you’re more likely to find him appearing in indies such as “Premium Rush” and risk-taking ventures such as “Looper”.

But what he has really always wanted to do was direct and after an on-the-job film school taught by the best (Nolan, Rian Johnson, Steven Spielberg et al.) he now presents us his first feature, which he also wrote, the raunchy, bittersweet comedy “Don Jon”.

With a lop-sided grin and squinty smile, Gordon-Levitt suggests Robert De Niro in his early days. But Jon is more akin to Tony Manero, immortalized by John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. Although Jon lives in New Jersey, his Catholic Italian family is cut from the same cloth as the Maneros, with a doting, worried mother (Glenne Headly) and a demanding, critical dad (a wife-beater clad Tony Danza in an image-makeover role).

All his mother wants is for Jon to meet a nice girl and settle down and give her grandchildren. All Jon wants to do is pump iron, score hot chicks and satisfy himself by watching internet porn. Jon finds this form of self-gratification infinitely more exciting than the real thing, for reasons which Gordon-Levitt explains in a hilarious montage with voice-over. He’ll almost have you believing the same thing.

Visually “Don Jon” pops with color and dynamic editing. Gordon-Levitt uses broad brush strokes to paint his character, but there’s an emotional heart beating beneath Jon’s buffed muscles and “Joisey” exterior. There’s real range in Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of the swaggering Jon (called Don Jon by his friends due to his lothario ways): he captures the cocky arrogance of youthful beauty but also reveals the longing to connect that exists deep down. This is brought to the surface by Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a drop-dead hottie in tight clothes and come-to-bed everything.  Barbara is a die-hard Romantic Movie addict and believes that real-life love should be as it is on screen. She wants the gentle wooing, the dash to the airport, boom box over the head, holding up traffic happy-ever-after. Johansson has never been better.

Can these two perfectionist dreamers find happiness together? Can Barbara forgive Jon’s consuming crutch? And can Jon ever change? Gordon-Levitt’s script unfolds in unusual ways with Julianne Moore popping up as a not all too believable character who proves to be Jon’s conduit towards healing. Moore gives a weighty performance, and the plot takes an abrupt turn. However, it is highly satisfying to watch a film that doesn’t bow to convention or predictability. Gordon-Levitt is too smart for that. Making an R rated comedy (which had to be trimmed to avoid the dreaded NC-17) that is full of wit, sly mockery and heart-felt sentiment is a major achievement. Gordon-Levitt’s first feature has something to say about the numbing effects of addiction and our 21st century obsession with perfection.  Luckily, he says it with great style and humor.


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