Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/27/2013
IMDB

Don Jon (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Porn Identity

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As an actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has enjoyed an extraordinary run of quality movies unlike anything in quite some time. While this could be good luck, it could also be a keen business sense, or good taste, or a certain kind of charisma. Whatever the combination, it has worked once again in Gordon-Levitt's feature writing and directing debut, Don Jon. It's such a natural fit that it negates that old cliché of Hollywood actors who say they "want to direct."

For his subject matter, Gordon-Levitt has taken on several items that are not normally discussed in movies. For one thing, the movie has a sense of daily routine. We get to know Jon (Gordon-Levitt) -- who is nicknamed "Don Jon" because of his success with women -- through the things he does, and repeats, daily. He introduces us to his routine, which includes cleaning his apartment, a workout at the gym, dinner with his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly), and then to the club with his buddies (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke), where he frequently meets some young lady, brings her home, and beds her.

But Jon finds more satisfaction and solace in internet porn, where everything is just as he likes it and he can truly "lose himself." So when he actually starts dating a beautiful woman, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he has a hard time reconciling their actual relationship with his unrealistic expectations. Likewise, she has a hard time with her expectations, stuck as she is on banal Hollywood romantic comedies (a couple of hilariously awful examples feature Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Meagan Good, which shows what good sports they are and how trustworthy Gordon-Levitt must be).

So Barbara starts to try to improve Jon, which includes sending him to night school. There he meets a sexy, middle-aged widow, Esther (Julianne Moore), who is a little too forward, but also a great deal more laid-back than Barbara. Ultimately, this movie is about forgoing expectations and finding genuine human connections. And, yes, the movie is brave enough to include sex as a genuine human connection, rather than the usual: two people gazing at each other and riding off into the sunset.

Don Jon is sexy, and it includes plenty of sex and nudity, but it understands what Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno understood. A true human connection may not make for good porn, but it's a whole lot better. It's also a relief that Don Jon does not concentrate on the character's treatment of porn addiction. This movie is not about a disease or a treatment, but about a discovery.

Gordon-Levitt also wrote the screenplay, and it's a beautiful balance of lines and structure. For example, Jon goes to the gym every day, and for several days we see his exact same routine. But as he begins to break away from his expectations and discover his true human self, Gordon-Levitt shows him breaking this routine, literally walking a different direction in the halls of the gym.

He includes seemingly throwaway moments, like John singing along to a song in his car, and then stopping when he realizes that he's within earshot of some other motorists. He hasn't quite learned to "connect" at this point. Every scene seems to have been placed in the exact perfect spot. His dialogue is likewise superb, slightly off-kilter, but hilariously funny, such as an argument Jon has with his father about watching the instant replay on a football game.

Perhaps less surprising is the high quality of the performances here; Gordon-Levitt is such a fine actor that it goes without saying that he'd give the same kind of attention to his cast. Johansson in particular, who is already one of my favorite actresses, gives her best performance here. Moore is also superb. But even characters who only get a moment or two, such as Danza, or Brie Larson as Jon's sister, spring fully to life.

This is the kind of American movie that comes along far too rarely. It's funny and entertaining, but it remembers who we are as human beings, does not shy away from our many flaws, and finds something endearing in all of it.

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