Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Movies: Don Jon ('Best of 2013' List)

Don Jon, the writing-directing debut of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the age old tale: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and mainly boy loses girl due to his unhealthy addiction to hardcore pornography. The boy is the titular Jon, a seemingly Jersey-Shore-esque meathead. The girl is Samantha, played in her best "marble columns" accent by Scarlett Johansson, who he meets on yet another Saturday night with his boys at the club trying to "pull tens". In Don's eyes, Samantha more than qualifies.

The film is partly about peoples expectations versus reality. In Don's case, his sexual experiences never match the specific features he lists that are unique to pornography, while Samantha has idealistic, unrealistic expectations of her own based in part on all the romantic comedies she's watched. He looks to lose himself in sex with the ladies, she thinks a man should lose himself in his devotion to his girlfriend.

The comedy in the film is all character driven, with frank talk about pornography and sex, along with related imagery (I wouldn't recommend it as a "first-date" movie, unless the two of you are fairly comfortable with one another). With the introduction of Julianne Moore's character Esther, and when the pricklier aspects of Don's relationship with Samantha come to the fore, the film makes a slow, organic shift to serious drama, and has more meaningful things to say about love and life. In the same way that Don's character moves from superficial to nuanced, so too does the film as a whole. That all the aforementioned actors are terrific in their roles certainly makes that transition work.

More great stuff:
  • Joe's father, mother, and sister, played by Tony Danza (!), Glenne Headley and Brie Larson respectively. There's a sequence with Jon Sr. reacting a little too positively to his son's new girlfriend that is hilariously creepy.
  • Couples-shopping that gradually throws up all kinds of red-flags about a character (I was impressed with the reality of the idiosyncrasy of the character in question and how effectively irritating that idiosyncratic behaviour was.)
  • A character initially thought to be a bit of a throw-away ends up being a true friend.
  • A scene where, due to a confluence of acting, direction, cinematography, and editing, Johansson manages to look both radiantly beautiful and batshit-crazy simultaneously.
  • As usual, Moore knocks it out of the park.

Based on the strength of Don Jon, I look forward to seeing any future films that Gordon-Levitt cooks up. Dude is talented! (You know the orange text is always a link, right?)

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