After working with the likes of Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Rian Johnson, and Spike Lee in just the last few years, it was perhaps inevitable that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would turn his attentions towards directing. In record time he's gone from forgettable child actor to charming fan-favorite superstar actor; multimedia innovator with his HitRECord label, and the guy most people wish was actually playing Batman. Starring in a number of great movies by today's best filmmakers doesn't necessarily translate to becoming a great director; many have tried and come out the gate with a face plant. But his debut film, Don Jon, is a bold, sexy, and completely original comedy that proves Gordon-Levitt can do pretty much anything he sets a mind to.
Like Nick Hornby's classic High Fidelity, Don Jon digs into the head space of a modern guy with more than his share of troubles relating to women. Writer, director, and star Gordon-Levitt acquits himself surprisingly well as a New Jersey guido named Jon, who has a deeper relationship with porn than he has with any woman. A notorious skirt chaser and notcher of bedposts, Jon and his buddies bed women, discard them the next day, then argue over who nailed the hottest one. Jon is the worst of them all, using his cocky charms like a deadly weapon of seduction that we see in stylish, speed-ramped fashion. For all the sex he's having, Jon is unsatisfied with it, only finding perfection in the trashy porn vids he scopes and gets off to dozens of times a week. To him the real thing will never be enough, even going online to find new vids to masturbate to while women are sleep in his bed mere feet away.
Leave it to Gordon-Levitt to create a completely original character in Jon, one that stands apart from other cinematic sex addicts we've seen as the disease has become more prominent. Jon doesn't just love porn, he admires it. He studies each scene like a pro, analyzes it, and he definitely has his preferences. As reprehensible as some may find Jon's "hobby" and perspective on women, the rest of his life is a thing of perfect order. His home is immaculate; like clockwork he attends church every Sunday with his family and confesses his myriad sins, busting out a few "Hail Marys" in-between workouts at the gym.
His holy routine is upended by, what else, a woman. But not just any woman, this one is the sought-after "perfect dime", which the guys rarely see out in the wild. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) has a body to die for and an attitude to match, and she's more than capable of shooting down Jon's usual moves. No, to get with her he'll need to employ the long game, like a con working on his biggest score. As honest as Jon is about pretty much everything, he's essentially an extremely suave fraud. He's forced to do things he's never even considered like going on dates, being respectful, enrolling in college, and watching terrible romantic comedies starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. Since he can't watch porn with Barbara around, he's reduced to scoping it hilariously on his smartphone, which comes with its own unique challenges. It also opens the door to his meeting Esther (Julianne Moore), an older and extremely quirky classmate who takes a keen interest in him, if only to learn why he's got smut on his phone.
It also means introducing Barbara to his extremely colorful family. Tony Danza plays his Dad, who is completely smitten with Barbara for obvious reasons. He also seems to have an addiction to football that rival's Jon's love of porn. The terrific Glenn Headley plays Jon's doting mother, who just wants him to settle down and find the right girl, and don't sleep on Brie Larson as his constantly-texting sister. Her role may seem like a mere sight gag but there's more to it than meets the eye. Gordon-Levitt may not be the most obvious choice to play a stereotypical Jersey bro, he makes Jon a complete, fully-realized character with flaws (he's not too smart, really) and extremely likable qualities.
Gordon-Levitt makes some keen observations about the male psyche in regards to sexuality, masculinity, and love, but perhaps the most notable is the suggestion that porn is for men what romantic comedies are for women. His point seems to be that both can be poison to forging lasting, healthy relationships, and Gordon-Levitt delivers his message with the style and charm we've come to expect from him. It's not the deepest film to explore such ideas, and the final act, which sees Jon attempt to change his ways, doesn't engage on the same level as the rest of the story. Perhaps taking his cues from his madly inventive (500) Days of Summer, Gordon-Levitt doesn't give us the ending we expect, instead throwing a few twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. Still, he shows a tremendous amount of promise in his debut. Don Jon is deceptively smart, funny, and perceptive, while cool enough that guys won't have to fear taking their ladies out to see it.