Tony Danza and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt rates high on the likeability level, starting out as a child actor and turning in memorable leading roles in the recent "(500) Days of Summer," "Inception," "50/50" and "Looper." Making his screenwriting-directing debut, the dimpled charmer needs to have viewers on his side: He plays a Jersey boy addicted to pornography.
The comedy is broad and the characters stereotypical. Contributing a new iteration to the Don Juan myth, Gordon-Levitt stars as a modern-day seducer. He cares about only a few things, such as working out in the gym, his pad, his ride, his family and friends, his church, girls and pornography. Place the emphasis on pornography.
Constructing a comedy around how our culture objectifies women and creates unrealistic romantic expectations is an interesting idea. Video images of hot bodies and close-ups of female body parts flash across the screen in the movie's opening, accompanied by Jon's voiceover relating his search for the perfect clip with which to masturbate. For him, porn proves more satisfying than sex with a real-life partner -- even a "dime" or perfect 10 like the gum-snapping Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson).
But filmmakers always have to be careful about glorifying the very subject that they are attempting to criticize. Every time Jon clicks on the Play icon of his computer, he -- and we -- are meant to take pleasure in the experience. He suffers consequences only when Barbara catches him in the act and tells him that porn is for losers. Unlike the portrayal in Steve McQueen's "Shame," Jon's favorite pastime is played for laughs during most of the movie (and regularly confessed and forgiven in church on Sundays).
A sit-com quality permeates Gordon-Levitt's earnest effort. Peppered with breezy banter and one-dimensional characters, the movie repeats Jon's routine at a fast clip. He goofs around with the guys (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) and has Sunday dinner with his over-the-top Italian-American family (Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Brie Larson).
Wooing New Jersey-princess Barbara gives the plot some direction. Her insistence that he attend college in order to leave his bartender days behind introduces the movie's most authentic female character, Esther (Julianne Moore), who shares a class with him. The well-intentioned theme of "Don Jon" hinges on whether or not the title character's relationship with Esther proves convincing rather than convenient for Gordon-Levitt's purpose.
Such a male-oriented movie may split viewer response according to gender, but undoubtedly the writer-director-actor shows promise as a triple-threat talent, whether or not dealing with triple-X-rated subject matter.
Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue, nudity, language and some drug use. One hour, 29 minutes.
- Susan Tavernetti