As the previews came to a close, the people sitting around me all appeared comfortable, relaxed and excited to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt strut across the screen as “Don” Jon Martello. After an amazingly awkward opening video montage, the atmosphere quickly changed from excited to uncomfortable. All the guys who thought it would be a good idea to bring a date to a movie centered around pornography clearly cringed in their seats. The fact that the movie was able to worm its way into the audience’s head in about 30 seconds was a good sign for the next 90 minutes.
Indeed, it was a good sign; “Don Jon” was well worth the $8 ticket. Writer, director and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt truly went all-out on his first feature film. JGL is able to hook viewers to his character as he crafts a believable world centered on his inability to connect with people.
JGL is certainly the star of the show. He gives a commanding performance that even outshines the amazing Scarlett Johansson, who plays the arresting Barbara, a seductive and manipulative woman in the “Don’s” life. JGL makes his character feel like a real, flawed person and keeps Martello alive with small tics like fist pumping.
Johansson appears as Barbara, a real-life “dime.” She, much like JGL, really surprises with the level of thought and detail put into her character. Julianne Moore is also thrown into the mix and adds to the confusion and erratic (not to mention erotic) story.
Besides JGL, the real standout was Tony Danza, Jon’s father. He was good for more than just a few laughs, adding cathartic moments around the dinner table.
As a whole, the cast of characters felt personal and well developed; however, the level of emphasis placed on Martello made the rest of the cast seem almost neglected.
While the idea of pornography is omnipresent, when it comes down to it, there is very little of it in the movie — but be prepared for nudity. “Don Jon” certainly has its fair share of explicit scenes that may make some people want to leave — as the couple seated next to me did after about 30 minutes — but that is its purpose; to come at you from every angle with its take on shock and awe.
JGL did an amazing job maximizing the visceral and carnal effect of the porn without sacrificing the movie’s integrity, stopping it from becoming the cheap, mindless pulp that it condemns. Granted, he actually uses this “dirty” industry to elevate “Don Jon” above it all and become an expose on the effects that media has on us, their ability to brainwash and delude expectations.
“Don Jon” isn’t afraid to make you cringe and feel uncomfortable, and it does so purposefully, bringing front-and-center a topic that many of us would be quite content not talking about with anyone, ever.
An amazing photo-driven sequence brings the movie to an electrifying close. The title, “Don Jon,” flashed up, and the theater was perfectly quiet. It was simply the calm before the storm; soon after it became loud as members of the audience began arguing and defending their views on the movie.
It seemed that the film divided people into the two extremes: either vehemently rejecting it or openly embracing its rough values. For every person complaining about the porn, the acting, or basically any aspect of the movie, it seemed that there was someone else defending it.
It was refreshing to see how much people got into the experience of the film. Many times the crowd simply disperses at the conclusion, only sharing murmured opinions to loved ones or friends, but to see such an actually engaged audience was an invigorating experience and an obvious success for JGL.