YSP Film: Don Jon Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has leaped from his actor’s cage and brought his first written and directed film to the big screen–in a film about porn. Should you pass, or press play on this HitRecord production? Hit the jump to find out.

I’m a little late on this review–grad life is busy, but that’s not a justifiable response, so I’ll begin this with a short synopsis of what my review will say to save you some time:

Go see this movie.

There you go. If you want my justification for that claim, venture forth brave sojourn.

Don Jon is, on one hand, unmistakably a “chick-flick“, but don’t let that deter you fellas, because it’s definitely an intelligent criticism of that very genre (and really societal expectations for both sexes, and perhaps even genders (though obviously one film about porn isn’t going to be able to investigate the wide range of gender identities that exist, though that is kind of the point). It’s a raunchy film–but it’s sexy and confident and well aware of its dirty outer shell.

JGL is smart–I was impressed with the film’s critical insight. Our main character Jon lives within a well-defined paradigm–his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his guys, his girls and of course, his porn. The film investigates Jon’s navigation of each facet of his life, and their relationships with one another through a collection of set pieces: essentially each day broken down into each of the constituent parts as listed above. And each day is displayed by a similar array of camera angles, events, and even dialogue. The nuanced changes in the repeating scenes as the days/months progress expose Jon’s character growth( and regression) and his lateral movement. The film ends with a somewhat overstated revelatory moment, which robs us of some of that nuance, but perhaps my frustration stems from my English Lit Student critical hubris. Another plus though: the film leaves us with issues to think about in relation to our imperfect narrator, redeeming the somewhat sail-wind robbing exposition.

Another example of Levitt’s intellectual engagement comes from the criticism that lies within the oft overlooked sister character. She provides comic relief in the film though she speaks only once. Her character is an enigma for us–we wonder what she thinks and generally don’t know. Like a Shakespearean fool, she seems segregated in every way from the characters around her. She’s is engrossed in technology, a smart move to stimulate introspection, but like Feste in Twelfth Night, she speaks one of the truest lines in the entire film.

The acting is spot on–the jersey life-style is exaggerated, almost cartoonish, but that is in some ways what makes the film so believable and enjoyable, and especially poignant. First, on the aspect of fun, Scarlett Johansson is great; so is Tony Danza. I’m not sure how JGL managed to prod some acting out of ScarJo, but she seems genuinely happy to be in the film, and her portrayal of the gum chewing Jersey Girl who chases and teases the “macho-man” is excellent. Danza is over-the-top, sometimes creepy, and altogether a perfect foreshadow of Jon’s future if he continues to engross himself in his pornography.

The poignancy comes from these exaggerated aspects–extending our misogynist (and misandrist) cultural conceptions and investigating them at the extreme puts us under the microscope. The film does well to challenge what he digest, and I think that those of us outside the humanities will be able to have a great time watching this film, while leaving with a lot of questions and opinions to dissect.

The film is far from perfect–Julianne Moore‘s character is great, certainly, but it becomes glaringly obvious early on what she represents in the film and what she’s going to do for the plot, no matter how unlikely it seems. I’m sorry, but “The Don” isn’t going to undergo such a quick transition because of a mom in his night school class. And JGL can’t quite let go of the reins, providing us some of Jon’s “growth” explicitly in his speech, which takes away from the generally engrossing first-person character we’ve been living through.

All that aside though, Don Jon is a fun, raunchy comedy that makes you question all of the fun, raunchy comedies you’ve seen before and that counts for something. The fact that it manages to remain fun and still speak some powerful truths about love and culture, without digressing into sesquipedalian didacticism, speaks volumes about what this film does right.

To summarize:

Go see this movie.

–M.G.

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