Sunday, 29 December 2013

Don Jon

Title: Don Jon
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levit
Released: 2013
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levit, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway

Plot: Jon (Gordon-Levit) a modern day Don Juan, ruled by his material possessions as well as his lust for casual sex and porn, only to soon find his life thrown into turmoil by his new relationship with the feisty Barbara (Johansson) .

Review: Not content with making the successful transfer from indie favourite to the Hollywood mainstream, Joseph Gordon-Levit extends his range here to include directing as he appears both side of the camera with his "Jersey Shore" esq tale. It's an interesting change of pace for JGL, while at the same time not so surprising when you consider some of the varied  roles he has undertaken previously, from a gay rent boy in “Mysterious Skin” to a high school private eye in “Brick”, he has continued to surprise with the roles he has been able to pull off while needless to say approaching all of them with a fearless attitude as anyone who has seen “Mysterious Skin” can certainly attest to. Here though he goes into Guido mode as Jon, as he engages in an endless cycle of working out, casual sex, cleaning his apartment and nightly rounds of what could almost be seen as a highly choreographed routine of porn watching before finishing out his week by attending confession to cleanse himself of his numerous sins.

Porn of course is the main subject of interest here, as Jon certainly loves his porn even openly admitting to preferring it over sex with one of his many real life partners. Needless to say these nocturnal activities don’t sit too well with Barbara, which leads to the surprising main meat of the film as Jon attempts to break away from his porn addiction. Of course if you’re now taken by surprise by that last part you would certainly be experiencing the same feeling I had while I was watching this film, as honestly the last thing I was expecting here was a study on how pornography has warped men’s expectations of sex. A subject certainly given some thought here, as Jon bemoans how his real life partners are unable to compare to his porn fantasies, their flaws being reeled off in almost a checklist. Of course such commentary on society and its porn obsessions, I’m still unable to tell if it’s a subject close to JGL or if he is just using working the subject into the film due to it currently being such a hot topic.

Jon trying to find redemption from his porn obsession forms the meat of the second half of the film, which is also the weakest part, as Jon soon meets Ester (Moore) through his night school classes, who might be what he has been looking for all this time, while together they engage in their own mutual and highly unorthodox form of therapy to try and cure each other’s issues, which generally involves smoking pot and having sex in Ester’s car. Sadly which I’m sure that JGL intended for these scenes to have some form of emotional resonance with the audience, who instead suddenly find themselves jerked to the polar opposite of the film they were watching in the first half, which ultimately proves to be detrimental to the film as a whole.

Ultimately though it is hard to classify exactly what this is trying to be classed as, with most critics seeming to be mark it as a modern romantic movie and one which aims to shy away from the more textbook fairy tale ending kind of romantic movie. JGL certainly has the experience with this films be it via “500 Days of Summer” or perhaps to a lesser extend “10 Things I Hate About You”, so it wouldn’t be overly surprising that he would choose to make a similar sort of film for his debut. Still this doesn’t truly describe the film for while the film certainly sees Jon trying to deal with two very different relationships, only the first half could be seen as trying to break this mould, especially when JGL includes a mock trailer for one of the kind of movies he is trying not to make, while also clearly making use of his little black book of celebrity fans, as Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum camp up the romantic leads.

Such confusion over what sort of film he is trying to make alongside the polar opposite halves to this film only makes it something of a shame especially when the first half shows such potential with JGL perfectly embodying the Guido stereotypes, which have become so familiar to those of us who may have caught an episode of “Jersey Shore”. You know while flicking through the channels looking for the Discovery channel and of course not intentionally watching it for the sleazy cheap thrill it provides…but I digress as JGL here if anything only continues to prove himself every bit the human chameleon as he perfectly embodies another role. This of course is more than just dressing hip and speaking with a Bronx accent, as he even manages to include even the smaller details of the culture such as striping down to his vest when eating dinner with his family, while his ear for dialogue is none the better than these moments, as Jon has to contend with a father (Danza) more obsessed with watching the game than the lives of his children and a mother who puts most interrogators to shame with her constant stream of questioning.

Equally strong is the supporting cast which JGL assembles here, from a pitch perfect Scarlett Johansson who gives one of her best performances since “Ghost World” with a classy trashy attitude to boot as she refuses to be just another conquest for Jon, teasing him relentlessly and could at one point potentially be the one to make him settle down if it wasn’t for her adverse reaction to his porn watching habits.  Julianne Moore is equally watchable and brings a suitable amount of emotion to her more powerful scenes as she reveals that she is dealing with the loss of both her son and husband.

Despite JGL once again confirming that he is still one of the most interesting actors currently working today, he however appears less comfortable behind the camera, with a disappointing second half striving to show redemption only proving detrimental to the overall film with its sudden mood shift. This is not to say that there aren’t still sparks of potential and flashy cinematography throughout, its just more of a stumble than a memorable debut.

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