Don Jon starts in cinemas this week. We’ve already seen it and here’s what we thought of it. The long and short of it: You should maybe go see it. It might just be one of the best movies this year.
The story is familiar at first: Jon is an Italian-born American, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And Jon is a player. He rates women on a scale from one to ten with his friends, he has one-night stands, a cool car, a fashionable job and good money. But Jon isn’t happy. Not really. Real sex isn’t his passion, because it just isn’t as spectacular as porn. So then, one day, Jon meets Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson. She rates a ten on the scale and so Jon goes to hit on her. But both Jon and Barbara develop feelings for one another and a relationship ensues. Most of you have probably seen the trailer by now. Because then you know that she catches him watching porn. And that’s where everything starts to go awfully wrong.
So far so good. It seems that you know this plot. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to explain this plot to you: Guy meets girl, they fall in love, they break up for some stupid reason, love prevails and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Well, that’s not Don Jon. Not at all. Don Jon paints a more realistic picture of men, of women and of relationships. Both parties have equally unrealistic expectations of the other.
This is where the movie’s strength lies. It’s a very new take on the boy-meets-girl story. While it is more realistic, it’s far from actually being real. The characters in the movie are either exaggerated slightly, somewhat larger than life, or delegated to be a plot device and/or inexistent. While Jon is the best player the planet has ever seen, his father is the biggest dissatisfied-yet-horny husband ever. His mother is the most obnoxious grandchildren-wanting nightmare and his sister almost constantly texts and never speaks. On the other hand, you have characters such as Barbara’s friends. A huge hubbub was made about them early on in the movie. They appear in one scene and they don’t talk.
Yet, all the characters are flawed. Every one of them. And while those flaws are never directly stated, they’re very present and very real. Jon’s sister is rather detached from her family, constantly texting unknown and unnamed friends. It’s clear why she does that. Esther, played by Julianne Moore, sobs more than once. It’s clear why she does that. No huge deal is made of either characters, they’re just the way they are. Flawed. Damaged. Human.
In fact, many of the scenes come out of nowhere and go nowhere. This isn’t a bad thing though. That scene from the trailer where Jon is in the car singing? Yeah, that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. It’s just that one scene. But all these scenes that serve no purpose – such as a repeated shot of Jon walking to the gym – actually tie together nicely. That’s where Don Jon amazes. On a technical level, Don Jon is quite the accomplished movie.
These repeating shots show Jon’s mood and his current situation better than any expositional talk with his friends could ever have done. Because, let’s be honest, men don’t talk about feelings and relationships quite in the way TV and movies want you to believe. We don’t share our feelings. We eat pizza on the street and make fools out of ourselves. That’s how we talk. And if Joseph Gordon-Levitt, writer/director/producer/star of this movie, suddenly had three grown men talk about their emotions, the whole movie would fall apart. And the ending, while not giving away too much, is very impressive.
Is it a comedy? Very much so. It’s not funny in the way we’ve come to expect from a comedy. It doesn’t have any slapstick or overly kitschy comedy in it. The jokes in this are based on real life experiences that we all make at one point or another. It’s sophisticated comedy that shows us a slightly distorted mirror image of our lives or situations we’ve encountered, exaggerating them just enough to make them funny.
A lot of critics have sung high praise of the movie. Is it really that good? No. It’s a good movie, yes. But it’s not the second coming of comedy-Jesus. It’s clever and it’s witty, but not the almost-poetic masterpiece that the marketing machinery wants us to believe. The actors in it are good, but none of them will be remembered for their parts in this film, probably because they play real people.
There are certain points where a viewer can tell that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not an accomplished scribe or an accomplished director yet. But as far as first movies go, this is more than just a job well done. Because despite all this, Don Jon is one of the better movies this year.