The third round of movie-watching brings with it one high, two solid entries, and one maddening low.
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza
Running time: 89 minutes
Before seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt's writing and directorial debut, Don Jon, ask yourself, "Am I from New Jersey?" Or, "Do I have any close friends and/or relatives from New Jersey?" If the answer is "yes," then there's a good chance that the entertaining, at times clever character piece Don Jon will come across as a thin collection of guido observations (disclaimer: I am from Jersey). The title character (also played by Gordon-Levitt) often feels like an exaggeration of The Situation, hitting all of the cliched details associated with the GTL crowd. Granted, Gordon-Levitt is satirizing the Jersey Shore crowd here, but he's also attempting to create a protagonist who's as endearing and agreeable as he is heightened and stereotypical.
The ability to either look past or tolerate Gordon-Levitt's on-the-nose interpretation of musclebound, self-obsessed Garden State playboys is key for appreciating Don Jon, which, heavy-handed moments of characterization aside, is an engrossing look at one man's coming of age. He's a ladykiller in public who can't stop watching online porn whenever he's home alone, or, hell, even when one of his female jump-offs is sleepily recovering from sexual overload in his bed. He also comes from a strict Italian home where his mother constantly asks him when he's going to settle down, and when he sees the bodacious Jersey princess Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, whose handling of a Sammi Sweetheart-like character is wonderfully spot-on), she seems like the one. They start dating, though his porn predilection remains.
Gordon-Levitt goes to great lengths to make his character likable despite his shallow interests, and having Jon routinely attend church with family, even bringing Barbara once he and she are officially an item, is a nice touch. It's that kind of non-abrasive characterization that helps to lift Don Jon above its sporadic inefficiencies.
Wisely, Gordon-Levitt introduces someone who's anything but GTL-focused later into the film to further distance his film from the obvious Jersey Shore parallels. Played by the ever-great Julianne Moore, she's a fellow student at Jon's nighttime college course who sees through his put-on exterior and from whom Jon learns exactly why his life feels so unfulfilled. Moore doesn't come fully into action until Don Jon's third act, but when she and her character, Esther, do usurp Johansson's Barbara for screen time, the film really hits its stride and becomes undeniably poignant.