Joseph Gordon-Levitt is well on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s brightest stars.
He has proven himself to be a skilled actor, most recently as Robert Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” His musical talent shines in his many viral pop song covers, and even his collaborative production website, hitREcord.org, has skyrocketed in popularity and will premiere as a televised variety show this January.
Now, he can add accomplished filmmaker to his many artistic hats.
“Don Jon” is Gordon-Levitt’s debut as both a screenwriter and director, but it feels like the work of a seasoned veteran. With an ideal cast, artistic cinematography, and a script with a strong, relevant message, it reaches a level of excellence most auteurs can’t in their entire careers, much less in their first attempts.
A modern-day Don Juan, Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is the envy of every bachelor. He easily picks up girls at the club, keeps both his body and car in pristine condition, and even makes time for his friends and family like any good Italian boy should.
Then there’s his porn collection, which he watches as religiously as he attends church (where he confesses his, ahem, indiscretions every Sunday). Even though he can – and does – get any girl he wants, Jon just can’t seem to find the same satisfaction that he does with a good internet video. Not even his new flame Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) can sate his lust. When Jon realizes he may have a problem, he finds help in his unlikely friend Esther (Julianne Moore), who teaches him that real pleasure can’t be found on a computer screen.
The characters are strongly written and well-acted, the stylized camera work is supremely effective, and the storyline is fast-paced and engaging; combining to drive the film’s pertinent message about true love and commitment without sacrificing the fun.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Gordon-Levitt’s decision to shoot his film in the style of the pornography with which his character is obsessed. It may seem like an odd choice, but the flashing lights, thumping soundtrack, and over-the-top sex scenes in the film’s first act mirror the unrealistic expectations of human sexuality that Jon’s porn addiction gives him. But when he realizes that he is trying (unsuccessfully) to turn his life into a porno, the bright lights fade away and the mood becomes more contemplative. The film’s very rhythm changes with Jon’s weekly routine as he gradually tries to change himself.
The script is witty and real, albeit a tad overdramatic, but allows “Don Jon’s” talented cast to shine. Tony Danza and Glene Headly are hilarious as Jon’s perverted father and emotional mother, and while Johansson and Moore may play polar opposite leading ladies, their stark contrasts make them very enjoyable to watch. But this is Gordon-Levitt’s show, and his investment in the film made his performance all the more believable, possibly the best of his career.
He has certainly set high standards for himself with this impeccable writing and directing debut, but if “Don Jon” is any indication, Gordon-Levitt will routinely surpass them.
**** out of five