Don Jon (Relativity Media, R)

Don-Jon 75Don Jon works because of the cast.

Don-Jon 500

Though as far as I can tell it isn’t intended to be a period piece, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing debut Don Jon has a bit of a reek of the 90s about it. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, as I have a soft spot for a lot of perhaps ultimately subpar 90s comedies like what Don Jon is seeming to emulate. Still, I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie where the likeable main character (the titular Don Jon, who is played by Gordon-Levitt) spends his time going to clubs and ranking the women there on the 1-10 scale, or where characters drop the slang for vagina that begins with a “p” (Don Jon on why he always wears condoms: “Unlike porn, real pussy can kill you.”), or where characters brazenly use the derogatory slang for homosexual that begins with an “f” (when a straight male character doesn’t think a woman as attractive as the other straight male characters think he should).

And though I haven’t yet described the plot, most of what you need to know about Don Jon is in the above paragraph. It’s a pseudo-romantic comedy about a stereotypical New Jersey meathead who is obsessed with hooking up with a new girl at every opportunity, but the twist is that he derives his real sexual enjoyment from masturbating to porn, often just after finishing with whoever his most recent sexual conquest is.

Don Jon’s routine changes, though, when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, who it’s nice to see outside of the Black Widow role), upon whom Don Jon fixates for basically no other reason than that she’s a 10 and that he seems to have a shot with her, but she isn’t the type to just give it up to the most likeable guy in the club. Johansson here reminds us what a good actress she is, after years of roles that don’t really require her to do a whole lot; it’s amazing how believable she is as a controlling Jersey girl. (Gordon-Levitt says he wrote the role with Johansson in mind, and while I don’t entirely see that, Johansson nails it all the same. No pun intended.)

Don Jon works because of the cast; this is one of those films that, had it been cast differently, I likely would have outright hated, but everyone here is strong enough to render the movie overall quite enjoyable. In addition to the always-likeable Gordon-Levitt and Johansson, Julianne Moore (Amber Waves herself!—and after a key scene with her, Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations” plays; this can’t be a coincidence) plays an odd character who Don meets in a night class Barbara puts him up to taking; Tony Danza rather convincingly plays Don’s dumbshit father (and looks more like Iggy Pop than Tony Micelli); Brie Larson, who has been in what feels like everything this year (which is fine by me; she’s pretty great), plays Don’s cell-phone-obsessed sister, who you know is going to spout some pearl of wisdom by the end of the movie; and the real scene-stealer is Glenne Headly as Don’s mom, who is too hung up on the prospect of Don finally settling down with someone after all these years.

In the end, Don Jon is one of those movies that I pretty thoroughly enjoyed when I was watching it, but I doubt I’ll ever bother to watch it again, and if someone tries to tell me that it’s a bad movie, I won’t argue with them too much. I can’t say how it bodes for Gordon-Levitt’s potential career as a writer or director, as it’s neither good nor bad enough to really give you a feel for his overall talent in either field. That said, generally speaking I hate characters like the ones depicted in this movie, so it says something that I liked this film or these characters in the first place. All the same, instead of Don Jon and his obsession with having sex with 10s, I’d rather see a movie about George Carlin, who famously used to say, “I never fucked a 10, but one night I fucked five 2s.” | Pete Timmermann

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