Don Jon

For his début as a feature writer / director Joseph Gordon-Levitt has taken it upon himself to make a twenty-first century Don Juan story (or rather Don Giovanni, as there’s no mistaking the Italian-ness of this movie), transposing the literary libertine into a modern self-obsessed, body-building, internet porn-addicted, goombah living in 2013 New York. It is difficult to know where to begin when exploring the levels of awfulness here. I’ll start with the disappointing fact that Gordon-Levitt, though only 31, is a veteran of over 50 films and television shows and has worked with some incredibly talented filmmakers, yet he seems to have learned how to direct movies from The Hack’s Handbook of Contemporary Cinema Clichés. Using every tired stylistic trope from the MTV generation of filmmakers--wall-to-wall first-person narration, repetitive quick-cut montages, 360 degree spins, slow-motion extenuated POV shots where all sound drops out and a thumping beat drops in, and every other technique that has been done to death since 1994--Gordon-Levitt rushes through his 90 minute movie with all the finesse of bulldozer. His screenplay contains an hour-long first act of exposition in which the main character (played by himself) tells us who he is though voice-over and shows us who he is via his relationships with his friends, family and new girlfriend (played by Scarlett Johansson). This endless beginning is followed by a 20 minute second act in which the third main character (played by Julianne Moore) is awkwardly introduced, and then a 7 minute conclusion where Don Jon learns his lesson; at least that’s what he says in his narration, we’ll have to take him at his word.

There is plenty of potential here for an interesting and even deep romantic comedy about a young man who prefers the instant gratification of intern porn to real sexual connections with actual girls. Over the course of the film he has a brief encounter with an older woman that enables him to expand his carnal horizons and deepen as human being. (That is not my wish for the movie, this is what it’s about.) Don could even be a funny, relatable and even charming main character if the film wasn’t so sloppy and simpleminded. Don Jon feels like a picture made from the first draft of a screenplay, and its clearly more interested in making pointed and obvious statements about the differences between what men and women each want out of sex and relationships, than in exploring these themes through an actual story arc. The message of this movie is so transparent it is almost as insulting as the Italian American stereotypes it traffics in. Surprisingly, both Gordon-Levitt and Johansson play their broad ethnic caricatures with a fair amount of credibility, but there is just no way to get past these two famous LA movie stars putting on the Guido for us. The only way to make a film like this work would have been for Gordon-Levitt not to have starred in it, but rather to have gone out and found an unknown actor with both the authentic New York Italian-American pedigree and the acting chops to make the character undeniably truthful (I can think of 10 New York actors right off the bat and I’m sure there are literally hundreds who could fit that bill). Of course, that would have meant making a much lower budgeted movie as his debut, but without his name attached as star it might also have meant that he wouldn’t have gotten the money to make the picture until he had rewritten the scrip into something that wasn’t just the description of a character for 60 pages with a minor revelation at the end.

Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Produced by Ram Bergman

Written by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Meagan Good, and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Cinematography: Thomas Kloss
Editing: Lauren Zuckerman
Music: Nathan Johnson

Runtime: 90 min
Release Date: 27 September 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1