Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the few stars that has managed to make the transition from child star to adult whilst avoiding the pitfalls of his peers. Throughout his career he has made several really smart choices, and one not so smart decision – we’re looking at you G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Although better known for his acting, Levitt is extremely involved in the production side of the industry. Don Jon may be his first feature, but the star has been making movies for a while through his company hitRECord. Whilst creating Don Jon he consulted with previous directors Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson who offered him sound advice on how to approach the project.
It appears that Levitt absorbed this advice like a sponge as the result is an insightful study of modern-day relationships and how they are influenced by the media. Further to directing Don Jon , Levitt’s script comments beautifully on our overly sexualised world, one moment in particular being the most innuendo riddled advert for a burger house you will ever see. This isn’t a film about sex, though, and is instead about how we perceive it. With the film having an 18 certificate there is of course some nudity, mainly from real world snippets of pornography, but the faint of heart needn’t be too concerned as the clips are cut together so quickly that you won’t be seeing anything you don’t want to.
As with previous movie Looper, Levitt has again transformed himself to the point of being almost unrecognisable as gym bunny Jon. Completely unlikable at the start, Levitt’s portrayal is eerily close to the type of guys that populate shows like Jersey Shore. Thankfully his character progresses, and by the end you should start to warm to him. Don Jon is as much a coming of age tale as it is anything else with Jon’s change perpetuated by Julianne Moore’s Esther. Jon and Esther meet at a night class, and although dealing with some issues herself she becomes an unlikely confidant for Jon, with the pair sharing many honest and frank conversations about Jon’s ‘addiction’.
Levitt has also managed to create real people to put on the screen. There are hundreds of Jons and Barbaras in the world and there will be multiple times when you will witness things that you have seen or experienced in real life. It is from these real characters that we get the film’s humour, laughing at what we know. Barbara, played brilliantly by screen siren Johansson, is a master manipulator of men and uses her sex appeal (which oozes from her) to get her own way. There is a beautifully funny scene set in a hallway which shows this skill-set perfectly.
The first half of the film sticks closely to the traditional rom-com formula, but just before the second act begins Don Jon morphs into something a little deeper than the audience may have anticipated. Once this change has started the film veers off into a direction that most will not see coming.
If this is the film Levitt has chosen to start his directing career, you should highly anticipate what follows. Don Jon plays like Jersey Shore, meets (500) Days of Summer, peppered with the unexpected humour of a film such as 50/50. So if you like your comedies insightful, witty, smart and a little sexy, this is the ticket for you.
Don Jon is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD now.
This review first appeared on THN in 2013 and was one the first ones that I felt really proud of writing.