I quite rightly had a lot of fun watching Don Jon. It’s a very funny comedy with a light-hearted tone, great performances and attractive stars (who feature in multiple sex scenes…). Yet further and further into the picture Gordon-Levitt awakens you to something much weightier and mature than its surface appearance. The writer-director-actor has a lot to say on cultural lifestyles in the 21st century, the nature of addiction and their effect on modern relationships. It’s an exhilarating piece with witty and sharp societal observations that don’t become overly pervasive.
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) and Barbara (Scarlett Johannson) both have their addictive shortcomings in the form of pornography and glorified Hollywood romance. Despite being prime choice for what each other is looking for superficially, the clear disconnect between their ideals creates some great drama as they attempt to mould their mate into the vision of what a partner should be. It’s a brashly told outlook on dating as a game to be won where genuine connection is abandoned for the other conforming to your desires and constituting this as “love”. One scene in a hardware store is particularly memorable if just for making you never want to date Scarlett Johansson.
Gordon-Levitt deftly treads the line between playing Jon’s addiction for laughs and never ridiculing the seriousness of the subject or portraying it as a vice. Through his relationship with Esther (Julianna Moore) he eventually comes to discover his faults and sincerely change, however it’s a very rushed and sentimental transformation in the final act that feels like artificial closure while also sacrificing the build of a fully realised character in Esther. She is so seemingly effortlessly laid back, friendly and astute in the face of her horrific past that her actions and occasional breakdowns don’t come off as believable in this universe, thus making it difficult to buy into her meaningful connection with Jon.
While it’s not as affecting on the topic as Steve McQueen’s Shame, it comes from a different narrative perspective to present insights with true character, tremendous stylistic touches and commendable risk taking that make it an impressive and courageous debut.