Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon” critiques the romantic comedy

“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls… my porn.” This is the opening line of the new romantic comedy “Don Jon,” which focuses on the modern disillusionment of relationships that comes from our media, whether it be porn or romantic movies.

Written and directed by Hollywood’s Renaissance man, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film takes an honest, albeit funny, look at pornography and the effect that it has on the modern man. Jon, played by Gordon-Levitt, is the typical Jersey Shore man, obsessed with his image and picking up a new lady every night at the club. Although he scores on the regular, he finds the pornographic images on his computer to be much better.

Jon breaks his streak of a new woman—ranked as either an 8 or 9 by him and his friends—every night when he sees the true prize: Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson. Barbara represents romance movies, the other part of media that prompts false ideas about relationships. She eats up every lie spilled in those movies. Jon and Barbara go and see a fictional movie starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum that nails the cheesy aesthetic and feel of romance movies, where the pretty man gives up everything for the pretty woman to be with her—Barbara’s favorite part.

Both Johansson and Gordon-Levitt play their parts perfectly. They are endearing, but still have moments where you hate their characters. Ultimately, they are both hilarious.

The rest of the cast is admirable, as well. Tony Danza plays Jon’s misogynistic father, Jon Sr, who is a carbon copy of Jon himself. Brie Larsson plays Gordon-Levitt’s sister, Monica, who is forever texting and scowling. His doting mother, Angela, is played by Glenne Headly, who depicts the perfect aging mother looking for grandchildren.

And finally, Julianne Moore has a surprising turn as Jon’s night school classmate, Esther. Moore does a phenomenal job; however, her role is crucial to the plot and I will not divulge any more information on her remarkable performance.

For a first film, Gordon-Levitt has written a fresh, funny story that is a surprising, frank and telling satire of American culture. While uproariously funny, the film still manages to be touching and poignant, which is quite a feat. It also walks the fine line between playing with the stereotypes of romantic comedies and romance and staying away from those very tropes.

As for direction and cinematography, the film is not gorgeous or mind blowing, but it does hold its own. The editing, however, is masterful, with Gordon-Levitt weaving porn clips and his own direction together to create moments of awkwardness, making the audience meditate on the story and what Jon is doing to himself.

A few key scenes in the movie that show Jon’s progression throughout the film are repeated over and over. Each scene that is repeated changes slightly and builds on the others. The progression isn’t always clear, and we are not always force fed the symbolism of each scene. This tactic is not new in any way, but it remains a clever method that ends up becoming an emotional core of the film.

“Don Jon” is a great take on modern romance that is neither cheesy nor catty. Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing debut is a clever, witty and well-crafted film with an emotional core to match its hilarity. With great performances, plenty of laughs and a strong message that speaks to modern times and modern people, “Don Jon” is worth a watch.

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