What a dime
You know exactly what you’re in for as soon Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut Don Jon snaps onto the screen, flashing his impressive writing, acting, and aforementioned directing credits interspersed between vaguely pornographic clips. His character (Jon “Don Jon” Martello Jr. himself) begins the opening dialogue in a blunt urban accent you think will annoy you but you get used to and begin to like within seconds, introducing us to his simple world: he only cares about a few things, like his car, apartment, family, body, oh, and also his porn addiction. Without missing a beat the movie marches on.
Gordon-Levitt’s frank and brutal writing and directing take us through his character’s life one snapshot at a time. In the morning he cleans his apartment with possible compulsive tendencies; he experiences severe road rage on the way to church; he asks for forgiveness for his sins for the week (all of which involve sexual acts) with a dopey grin on his face; next he’s at the gym working out in front of the mirror and praying; finally he’s at his parents’ house, where his father (Tony Danza of all people) won’t look away from the game and his mom (Glenne Headly) dreams of the day Don tells her he found “the one.” At night we hear the ding of his computer being turned on and, well, you know what happens.
His mom’s dream may finally come true when he encounters a blonde and sneering “dime” at a nightclub who rejects him. After a small amount of asking around, he discovers her name is Barbara Sugarman (that’s her real name guys), and invites her to lunch. Cue Scarlett Johansson, who was about as perfect for this role as Gordon-Levitt was for his. The two begin a less than perfect relationship (she’s obsessed with movies while Don thinks they’re boring, and he’s obsessed with porn which she thinks it’s disgusting and forces him to give it up), but they say they love each other, and at least Don’s mom is finally happy.
The movie eventually slows down from the rush of its insanely watchable opening half hour or so. The nonstop frenzy of laughs is gradually replaced by drama, and while it remains succinct and witty, the transition does detract from the film’s steady stomp. This may be because of the entrance of Esther (Julianne Moore), a somberly wacky student in Don’s night class Barbara forces him to take. What at first seems like a zany subplot evolves into something more serious as the film goes on (we all saw Moore on the movie poster so we knew that would happen anyway). Moore adds an unexpected but nonetheless needed dose of emotion to the story – if only the end result could have been reached sooner without the awkward period of uncertainty in between.
Gordon-Levitt and Johansson don’t miss a beat though; Johansson transcends what could have been an ordinary character into multifaceted gem of believability. She’s great in both serious and comedic roles, or both in instances like this. Gordon-Levitt’s genius consistently shines through as a director, writer, and actor. It’s impossible to decide which one he’s best at here.
Stylish, fast and brainy, Don Jon is an exciting 90-minute power surge into the gleefully nasty life of the title character. More laughs are to be had here than in a more conventional comedy. Gordon-Levitt is a master of balancing subtlety and blatancy – Don Jon is a perfect concoction of both. Don has a sister named Monica (Brie Larson) who says a whopping one line of dialogue in the entire movie despite appearing in multiple scenes. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, she was one of the favorite characters regardless. When something so subtle gains so much appreciation, that’s when you know you did something right. Don and Gordon-Levitt excel at that.