×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Don Jon’

Only an actor as appealing as Joseph Gordon-Levitt could pull off the role he creates for himself in "Don Jon's Addiction," an endearingly masturbatory look at how a culture of objectification erodes our capacity for intimacy.

With:

Jon - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Barbara - Scarlett Johansson
Esther - Julianne Moore
Jon Sr. - Tony Danza
Angela - Glenne Headley
Monica - Brie Larson
Bobby - Rob Brown
Danny - Jeremy Luke

Only an actor as appealing as Joseph Gordon-Levitt could pull off the role he creates for himself in “Don Jon’s Addiction,” an endearingly masturbatory look at how a culture of objectification erodes our capacity for intimacy. Serving up his directorial debut as the cherry atop a year of enormous career growth, the “Looper” star plays a lothario whose insatiable appetite for Internet porn stands in the way of a meaningful relationship. Jaunty handling of the taboo subject could also bar the way of a wide release, calling for a possible rethink of how the racy Sundance cut samples X-rated footage.

Once the scrawny kid from “3rd Rock From the Sun,” Gordon-Levitt has filled out for the role of a modern-day Don Juan, who is first seen deep in the throes of onanism. Looking like a castaway from “Jersey Shore,” gym-built, greasy-haired bartender Jon has been getting his jollies from explicit videos three, four, sometimes 10 times a day for so long, the real deal no longer thrills him.

This poses a challenge when he spies fantasy girl Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, looking like a live-action Jessica Rabbit) at the club. Sure, sex is fun, but not nearly as satisfying as porn, Jon explains in the film’s flashy opening voiceover, articulating a troubling value shift few have had the courage to raise, while liberally illustrating the point with the visual stimuli on which he’s come to rely for one-sided thrills.

Barbara insists on a more traditional courtship, however, dragging Jon to the movies, which supply equally unrealistic albeit more socially acceptable romantic expectations (courtesy of Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway, who cameo in clips for a “SNL”-worthy Nicholas Sparks sendup called “Special Someone”). When Barbara finally does give in and sleep with Jon, he still can’t resist sneaking out of bed for a digital digestif, jeopardizing what’s shaping up to be his first serious relationship when she catches him making love to his laptop.

Before meeting Barbara, all Jon cared about were his physique, his neat-freak apartment, his classic muscle car, his “boys” (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke play his wingmen) and his “girls” (an ever-revolving cast of red-hot one-night stands). Being a good Catholic kid, he cares about family and church, too, though it’s a running joke to see how the family (Tony Danza, Glenne Headley and Brie Larson) eats dinner and attends mass, rarely giving either matter their undivided attention. Sunday confession offers weekly absolution for Jon’s carnal transgressions, and the meathead duly incorporates his prayer-reciting penance into his workout routine.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about “Don Jon’s Addiction” is the fact that Gordon-Levitt could have spun a porn-free version of this love story as an all-audience crowdpleaser, but instead, he opted to engage with what’s shaping up to be a real pandemic, as porn increasingly infects the expectations men put on the opposite sex. Where Steve McQueen’s “Shame” took the more obtuse artfilm approach to this sex-obsessed phenom, Gordon-Levitt weaves the topic into a broadly accessible romantic comedy, one that ultimately uses its in-your face style to sneak a few old-fashioned insights about how self-centered guys can learn to respect their partners.

Porn isn’t the only culprit here, either, as the pic implicates everything from body-baring advertisements to hand-me-down machismo (Danza, perfectly cast as Jon’s caveman dad, complements his onscreen son on his new “piece of ass”). Gordon-Levitt’s script can be a bit on-the-nose at times, but that’s an indulgence easily forgiven in a debut feature, and this ensemble winningly sells the movie’s tricky tonal mix — none better than Julianne Moore, who plays an unexpected confidante Jon meets while attending night school, using her gift for nuance to spin a small part into the film’s soul.

On the opposite extreme, guido culture takes a hit: Not since “The Sopranos” has Jersey’s Italian-American contingent been so ruthlessly reduced — although this time, the whackings are all self-inflicted. While the pic’s bridge-and-tunnel stereotypes may border on the cartoonish, in the view of many American males, Jon is living the dream.

That’s the mindset Gordon-Levitt so effectively manages to correct over the course of Jon’s partial awakening. The self-assured helmer shows genuine affection for his characters, balancing their openly satiric qualities with a disarmingly sincere human center. Meanwhile, the film’s visual style complements its slick lensing with flashy cutting, choosing angles that critique cinema’s tendency to objectify by calling attention to that very language — a strategy extended via carefully selected porn clips and Nathan Johnson’s ironic club-music score.

Film Review: 'Don Jon'

Production:

A Voltage Pictures presentation of a HitRecord Films, Ram Bergman production. (International sales: Voltage Pictures, Los Angeles.) Produced by Bergman. Executive producer, Nicholas Chartier. Co-producer, Jeff Franks. Directed, written by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Crew:

Camera (color, widescreen), Thomas Kloss; editor, Lauren Zuckerman; music, Nathan Johnson; production designer, Meghan C. Rogers; art director, Elizabeth Cummings; set decorator, Cindy Coburn; sound (Dolby Digital), Pawel Wdowczak; supervising sound editor, David Chrastka; re-recording mixers, Gary A. Rizzo, Tony Villaflor; visual effects supervisor, Karen E. Goulekas; visual effects, Scanline VFX, Digikore VFX, Incessant Rain Studios, Hydraulx Visual Effects, Rez-Illusion; special effects coordinator, John Hartigan; pornography consultant, Simon "Avisari" Kangas; assistant director, Brian O'Sullivan; second unit camera, Jason Presant; casting, Venus Kanani, Mary Vernieu. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 18, 2013. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama.) Running time: 89 MIN.

With:

Jon - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Barbara - Scarlett Johansson
Esther - Julianne Moore
Jon Sr. - Tony Danza
Angela - Glenne Headley
Monica - Brie Larson
Bobby - Rob Brown
Danny - Jeremy Luke

With: Italia Ricci, Lindsey Broad, Amanda Perez, Sarah Dumont, Sloane Avery, Loane Bishop, Arin Babaian, Arielle Reitsma, Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway.

More Film

  • Kevin Hart Monopoly

    Kevin Hart in Talks to Star in Monopoly Movie

    Kevin Hart is in talks to star in Lionsgate and Hasbro’s Monopoly live-action movie, which he will also produce through his HartBeat Productions label. Tim Story is in final negotiations to direct the film and also produce through his Story Company banner. HartBeat’s John Cheng will also produce and oversee the pic with Carli Haney. Story Company [...]

  • Playtime Unveils Three New French Comedies

    Playtime Dives Into Different Waves of French Comedy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Playtime, the Paris-based co-production and sales company which will be presenting Francois Ozon’s anticipated “By the Grace of God” in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, has acquired three offbeat French comedies: Geraldine Nakache’s “I’ll Go Where You Go,” “The Bare Necessity” with Fanny Ardant, and Valerie Donzelli’s “Our Lady in Paris.” “Our Lady in [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • The Pokémon Company Unveils Extensive Line

    The Pokémon Company Unveils Extensive Line of 'Detective Pikachu' Merch

    The Pokémon Company is putting out an extensive line of products for its first-ever live-action Pokémon movie, “Detective Pikachu,” it announced on Thursday. Among the new offerings are Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) booster packs, action figures, an interactive plush from Wicked Cool Toys, and an adorable deerstalker hat with Pikachu ears. All of the [...]

  • Other Angle Bows Raft of French

    Other Angle Bows Raft of French Comedies at UniFrance's Paris Rendez-Vous (EXCLUSIVE)

    Other Angle has picked up international sales rights to “A Good Doctor” with Michel Blanc, “Just The Three of Us” with Catherine Frot, and “The Father Figure” in the run-up to the UniFrance’s Rendez-Vous in Paris. Directed by Eric Besnard, “The Father Figure” is a supernatural comedy drama following a writer who mourns the death [...]

  • Playables and Double Fine Film 'KIDS'

    Playables and Double Fine Creation 'Kids' Chosen for Berlinale

    “Kids,” a short film from Playables and Double Fine Presents, has been officially selected to screen at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, announced Thursday via press release. The Berlin International Film Festival, commonly called the Berlinale, is one of the largest film festivals in the world. “Kids” will screen in a Berlinale sidebar called Generation. [...]

  • Roland Joffe

    Roland Joffe to Direct Mobster Drama 'The Legitimate Wiseguy'

    Roland Joffe will direct the independent mobster drama “The Legitimate Wiseguy,” Variety has learned exclusively. Joffe received Academy Award nominations for best director for “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. He also helmed “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Forgiven,” “City of Joy,” “Time Traveller,” and “There [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content