Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Don We Now

Last year, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt made the jump to triple threat by writing and directing his first feature film, Don Jon. He sought the advice of directors he'd worked with, Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson. They strongly encouraged him to cast someone else to star in his first film so that he could focus on things behind the camera, but Gordon-Levitt had a vision and forged ahead.

Interestingly, it's not the directing I found lacking, but the script. Don Jon is the story of a young man trying to make a relationship work with a new girlfriend, stymied by two obstacles: her efforts to mold him into a movie-perfect fantasy boyfriend, and his addiction to web porn. It sounds like a simple concept, and there indeed really isn't much more to it.

The movie is peppered with some interesting character sketches, cast with interesting actors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt himself is good as the matter-of-fact Jon, whose narration plausibly spells out why for him, porn is better than an actual woman. Scarlett Johansson plays the girlfriend Barbara, and is a woman you can imagine a guy like this wanting to change for. Julianne Moore plays Esther, a more insightful woman the main character meets while attending community college at the urging of Barbara. Don Jon's father, mother, and sister are played by Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson; the characters are rather stereotypical, but all three have fun playing with it. Also look for some brief but fun cameos by Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum as movie characters Barbara eats up with a spoon.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt develops a strong style for the film -- rapid cuts for emphasis, good use of repetitive staging, knowing when to hold on an actor's face while they do their thing. But the story simply isn't that interesting. The exploration of the "he likes porn, she likes romance films" premise is decidedly one-sided, and the resulting conflict seems trivial. It hardly seems important to either of these characters whether their relationship survives or not, which may be an accurate behavior for the characters, but makes for a rather dull movie.

Style and performances count for something, but only enough to pull this movie up to a C- in my book. Probably the best thing to come from this movie are the lessons Joseph Gordon-Levitt hopefully learned, should he choose to make another.

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