Whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt is destined to become the next James Franco is debatable, but it seems as if he’s on track to wear just as many multi-talented hats. He sings and plays guitar, dances, acts, and runs his own collaborative production company, but that’s not all – with his latest effort, Don Jon, you can add screenwriting and directing to his growing laundry list. The movie took both the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and this month’s Toronto International Film Festival by storm, but despite high expectations, Don Jon ended up falling flat.
Let’s start with the good. First off, the performances in the movie are all spot-on. Gordon-Levitt plays handsome lothario Jon Martello, Jr., nicknamed “Don Jon” by his friends for his ability to to pull any girl at any time. Jon seems to have it all – a sweet bachelor pad, a buff bod, a crew of loyal bros, and all the gorgeous girls he could possibly want – but he’s only truly happy when he’s watching porn. Gordon-Levitt looks little like the bronze guidos seen on Jersey Shore, but he manages to pull it off and does a pretty good job of convincing the audience that he is indeed a iron-bingeing, egotistical meathead crafting his life around adult videos. Scarlett Johansson plays Barbara Sugarman, a self-absorbed guidette obsessed with Hollywood happy endings, and her heavy Jersey drawl proves a fierce match for Gordon-Levitt’s practiced accent. Tony Danza is fantastic as Jon Martello Sr., Jon’s gruff, wifebeater-clad father, and Glenne Headly is charmingly hilarious as his fluttery mother on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Don Jon a funny movie; that’s for sure. Gordon-Levitt busting a move to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch is hysterical, and there are some really great, quotable one-liners. But now, we must move on to the not-so-good. Don Jon is saturated with a heady, unpleasant taste, reeking of unnerving smugness that seeps through the entire movie. You really have to wonder how much of that comes from the character, and how much of it comes from JGL just being JGL. While the movie is assembled with a refreshing, assured confidence, it ends up feeling like little more than an exercise in self-promotion.
The movie’s smugness could have been overlooked, if it wasn’t for the silly, cliched triteness of the movie’s preachy theme. “Sometimes, you have to lose yourself in another person”, withers middle-aged, free-spirited hippie Esther (Julianne Moore). Moore’s performance is disarming and wonderfully guileless, but her character comes off as a didactic, personified lesson, rather than an actual human being. Don Jon is an admirable attempt, especially for Gordon-Levitt’s directorial and screenwriting feature film debut, but it’s getting awfully tiring watching movie after movie about white man-children “finding themselves”. If Garden State was the angst-ridden anthem for mopey, suburban Jersey 20-somethings, then Don Jon is the dim-witted song written for Pauly D’s hypothetical debut R&B-slash-soul album in which he attempts to prove himself “deep”.
Don Jon promises an entertaining hour and a half runtime, but very little beyond that. It’s not a bad movie – in fact, it’s actually pretty good – but it’s hard not to feel disappointed leaving the theater feeling like it could have been so much more. Like its eponymous protagonist, Don Jon is all brawn with no brain. See it for the comedy, but don’t expect much more than that.