Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let's Review Something: Don Jon

I swear to god I didn’t plan this, but it is oddly appropriate that the 69th film I see from the film year that is 2013 happens to be ‘Don Jon’.  I honestly couldn’t have planned this out if I tried, but I do keep track and yes it is true. 

I’ve been excited to see this movie since I saw the first trailer.  I take that back.  It goes even further back than that.  Remember back when there were those rumors that Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were the cutest couple in Hollywood only to have those rumors merely be the start of this collaboration, which happened to be Joseph’s directorial debut?  Yeah, I’ve been excited to see the two of them together on the big screen since then.  Sadly, my life doesn’t always accommodate my every cinematic desire, and convincing my wife to see a movie starring Scarlett Johansson (who she hates for her good looks and my shameless obsession with) about porn addiction was not going to be an easy sell, so it had to wait.

Honestly, watching this this afternoon while my wife was out felt a lot like sneaking porn, not because ‘Don Jon’ is overly pornographic in nature but because I knew she’d be upset if she found out about it.

I other words, it would have went down similar to when Barbara checked Jon’s browsing history.

‘Don Jon’ didn’t meet with a lot of criticism.  It met with some, and I read into it, but overall it was considered a pretty impressive directorial debut.  Watching ‘Don Jon’ I found myself finding it more than merely impressive, at least for a while.  In fact, my huge hitch with ‘Don Jon’ is that it feels like two separate films, and so in the end it suffers from an identity crisis of sorts.  I obviously blame Gordon-Levitt’s inexperience for this, but at the end of the day his tenacity and obvious knack for storytelling and cinematic framing should not be overlooked.  The first half of the film plays out like a French New Wave inspired episode of ‘Jersey Shore’, and I mean that in complete and total gleeful excitement.  The slow motion exagerations, the stereotypical clichés dripping from every frame and Scarlett Johansson’s gum smacking perfection; all these elements felt so beautifully inspired and complete.

I was in love.

In fact, the only other film this year to make me smile as much as this one was ‘Enough Said’, and we all know how perfect I think that film is.  Yes, for the majority of this film, even the scenes that I didn’t think fit the mold the way they should have, I was smiling ear to ear.  It’s just a fun, flirty and happy film.  It’s like the comedic version of ‘Shame’, which I know sounds really odd and yet it kind of works.  Even Gordon-Levitt’s seeming directorial quirks (many griped about the film’s repetitious sequences) work in the context of the film, and the way that he explores quite a few themes (from addiction to religion to relationships) without every once getting heavy handed is rather remarkable.  While it does resort to ‘telling Jon the problem he already knows he has’, I do like the way that the first half of ‘Don Jon’ nonchalantly outlines the core of Jon’s problem, that porn allows him to completely let go without having to engage anyone else.  The countless one night stands mean nothing and so he can’t connect, but the mindless porn, while meaning absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, mean more because he can get whatever he wants out of it.

But with all this praise comes a bit of negative energy as well.  There were two characters that I just couldn’t support because they made Joseph’s otherwise effortless and easy film feel contrived and reaching.  First, Monica, Jon’s silent sister.  I called it from the first scene that she was going to be that one character who says nothing until the very end, where she spits out some ‘words of wisdom’ brought on by her silent observations.  Yes, she was right (and thankfully up until she ‘said it’, the film was very subtle in the buildup) but it felt unnecessary.  Even more distasteful for me was the character of Esther, the cougar/advice dispenser who befriends Jon about halfway through and serves and the catalyst of change for his character.  It just felt like a very clichéd way to go, and while ‘Don Jon’ as a whole is a film that is built on clichés (from the Guido mentality to the Italian family), this particular cliché took itself too seriously.

And her backstory just felt completely out of place.

Still, ‘Don Jon’ is a blast and shows a lot of promise for the young director.  It also sports a hilariously pitch perfect ensemble.  Gordon-Levitt carries the film with deepened vocals and a swag that can’t be manufactured, and his entire crazy family (from Larson to Danza to a hilarious Glenne Headly) makes every scene a delight.  But the film does belong to Scarlett Johansson, who has never been funnier.  She never breaks character and delivers a delicious portrayal of a man-eater, and she just gets it.  Think Marisa Tomei in ‘My Cousin Vinny’ for the MTV crowd.  She spits the banter like a pro, and her line readings are honestly my favorite from anyone I’ve seen so far this year.

Oh, I’m sure you could.

I give this a B.  Like I mentioned, it is almost there and has a lot of praise but also drops the ball where it could have ended strong.  Scarlett Johansson was robbed that Oscar nomination though.  I'm sure that her character seemed too empty for many Oscar voters, but it only shows how little they know.  She packs a major punch and serves up one of the funniest performances I've seen in a long time!


  1. I really liked this film as I thought it was a great piece about the ideas of what men and women want in each other. Scarlett was hilarious as she just chewed gum for half of the film and be such a cock-teasing bitch. Plus, her ideas of romance are so dumb like those awful rom-coms my mom watched last night in 27 Dresses.

    1. I love how they subtly work in Barbara's selfish nature without making her seem like a monster. You even wonder if the film is going to flip the breakup and turn it into some reconciliation thing in the end, and then there is the coffee scene which is rather perfect and ScarJo NAILS the complete character right in that moment.

  2. B for me as well. I would've rather seen Johansson get in for Her, even if it would arguably be category fraud.

  3. I gave it a B too. I love JGL and Scarlett's accent in this was hilarious. It was a good first effort at directing and writing for JGL.

    1. I agree, this was a good start for him and it shows real promise.