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Don Jon, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt | 2013

It’s an interesting premise, which made Don Jon a very promising film. But just like it happened with the initial hopes of its characters, expectations did not meet reality for me. I understand this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s first feature film, so we could simply be in the presence of his own directing style. If so, great – it just means that I don’t share his film aesthetics, which is perfectly normal and legitimate. But if we agree that Don Jon‘s structure was in need of some polishing, then there’s a solid base for my disappointment. Nonetheless, Don Jon stands as a pretty bold and confident directional debut that works to some extent, and will certainly have me keeping an eye on Levitt’s next work.
So there’s definitely something positive for us to hold on to: the cast does a pretty nice job conveying their respective characters, which makes for a enjoyable watch. Gordon-Levitt himself plays the leading character – a young jersey shore guy type, who takes care of his body, goes to church every week, enjoys going out with his friends as much as cleaning his home, and is addicted to porn. All he was missing was a good tan. Opposite him is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a very attractive woman who not only loves those cheesy romantic comedies, but also buys into every single thing they depict – and they are as unrealistic as the dirty videos Jon sees daily.

There’s also Julianne Moore as Esther, a colleague from one of Jon’s night classes, who has issues of her own but is more much experienced at life, thus bringing Jon’s take on love a bit more down to earth. And then we have Tony Stanza as Jon’s father, who is a blast to watch, just like the mother, Glenne Headly. You would and can expect northing short of great from all of these.
It’s something to behold, but in the end it’s just not enough. Such a great starting point makes me crave for an incisive look on the questions it poses, and yet we’re left with an obvious conclusion (of course love and relationships are not what they expected, get a grip people), a rather cheap ending, and a disregard for Barbara’s fate that leaves me a bit mad: so Jon gets to find his way with the help of Esther, but Barbara, she stays the same delusional girl she was from the beginning. There’s zero growth for her, she’s painted in solid black and white, and somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. Perhaps I didn’t get the clever satire that a lot of people rave about, maybe I’m not seeing the greatness in Don Jon, but doesn’t all of it seem just a bit too shallow?

View Comments (10)
  • Shallow? Nah, the first part is really strong and it does criticize the romantic movies which is awesome for somebody who hates them – me. But the second part lost its focus.. still love it though!

    • I still think it adds almost nothing new to the conversation — then again, like I said, maybe it didn’t intend to — but I do agree that first part was stronger than the second one, no doubt.

  • I liked this one, it was a good effort from JGL for his first feature. I look forward to whatever he directs next. Great review!

  • Well to be honest there are plenty of girls like Barbara – they don’t even seem to know something is wrong with them. They’re pretty and they’ll find a husband to manipulate. But Jon’s flaw was pointed out to him so he did something with that. For me what really didn’t work was the way Moore’s character was handled – the mother/lover thing was a bit too much they should have decided on just one role for her to play.

    • gosh don’t I know them too… I understand she’s not the centerpiece of this film, but her storyline could be so interesting, I wanted more and more about her delusions and how they connect with today’s rom-coms.

      Moore and Jon, I know… their relationship felt somewhat off, and that ending… it kind of tainted everything for me, even though the first half was fun.

  • I honestly wanted to like it. It just didn’t happen – I agree that it was shallow, but “Don Jon stands as a pretty bold and confident directional debut that works to some extent, and will certainly have me keeping an eye on Levitt’s next work” is what I connect with most here. Just like Sati, his and Moore’s relationship there tainted things for me and while Moore’s a great actress, I think she was miscast here. Lovely review!

  • I had some problems with this film too, but it was a decent directorial outing for Gordon-Levitt. I can’t wait to see what he does next as a writer/director.

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