- Campus copes with holiday grief
- New water plan saves big money
- Campus police offer holiday safety tips
- Alys Stephen Center Screens Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
- Hospital feeds underprivileged new moms
- UAB’s Alys Stephens Center presents Yo-Yo Ma Dec. 6
- Southern Miss tops Blazers, 62-27, in season ending game
- Henry Panion selected for 2014 Alabama African-American History Calendar
- Enjoy Christmas at the Alys Dec. 2, “The Season’s First Jingle”
- Engineering’s Ning wins ASTM International award
- Collat School of Business unveils sign at celebration
- Heudebert elected master by American College of Physicians
- Anti-aging strategies can improve more than looks
- On campus ‘blackout’ taken in stride
- Bariatric Surgery Services to present annual fashion show Nov. 25
Don Jon: Levitt’s first turn as director
Whenever an actor takes a stab at directing, one can’t help but be a bit dubious. Will it be an ego-stroking acting showcase or will the visuals be as impressive as the performances? The latest to try his hand at it is Joseph-Gordon Levitt, with his debut feature, Don Jon, and for the most part, he kind of nails it, believe it or not. Oh, it’s not a perfect movie. There are some pacing issues, especially in the last act, but for the most part, Levitt gets it right. The result is sort of an anti-romantic romantic comedy, much in keeping with his previous foray into the much-loathed genre, (500) Days of Summer.
Only where that film adhered a bit more to the standard formula of such a film, this one is genuinely guy-friendly in a way most rom-coms are decidedly not. Indeed, in the packed screening I attended, the guys laughed far more than the girls ever did, and given the amount of them with girlfriends or wives in tow, I suspect some of them will have some explaining to do afterwards. For you see, this is a knowing film, and one that all but winks at the males in the audience, as if to say, “I feel you, bro. Here’s one for all the fellas who ever had to endure one of those awful by-the-numbers rom-coms in the past.”
Even more impressive, Don Jon isn’t content to simply call women on their impossible standards of rom-com-derived idealized relationships, but isn’t afraid to point the finger at the guys, either, for their similarly idealized (in a wholly different way) concept of what goes on in things like pornography and some of the more sexualized imagery happening in the media on the whole. For you see, both are shams, and it’s that exploration of each of these takes in all their flawed glory that makes Don Jon so compelling.
Levitt plays the titular Jon, a Jersey guy’s guy whose entire life revolves around family, church, working out, clubbing, and bagging as many babes as humanly possible. And porn. Lots and lots of porn. Needless to say, he spends a lot of time in church confessionals, spilling the deets on everything he does in exhaustive, often hilarious detail. We see him at clubs, unsparingly “rating” every girl he sees with his buddies, until along comes Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson, a dime if there ever was one. (That would be a 10, for those who don’t speak Jersey guy.)
Against all odds, he falls in love, and with it comes great responsibility. And lots and lots of conditions. Oh yes, there are plenty of hurdles to jump through before Jon gets to bag this particular babe; she makes him really work for it, to be sure. This naturally includes watching a whole lot of horrendous romantic comedies, including a hilariously rendered satire of one, starring- who else? – Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. (Upon watching said movie, Jon says what every guy who’s ever suffered through a Hathaway flick has been thinking: “Yeah, she’s alright, I guess,” through barely-contained eye-rolling. Brilliant touch.)
In the meantime, upon attending a night class that Barbara insisted he take (because he should always be striving to improve himself, naturally), he meets an older, troubled woman, Esther, played by the always-reliably emotional Julianne Moore. He bristles at her at first, but the two eventually become unlikely friends, with Esther showing him how people actually connect, rather than simply going through the motions of connecting.
Of all the elements of the movie, it’s this one that’s a bit troublesome, if necessarily so. Would a guy like Jon actually connect with someone like Esther in real life? Probably not, even though Moore is nothing if not a beautiful woman in her own right, regardless of her age. But Levitt, who also scripted, inherently recognizes the necessary evil that something has to happen to change Jon, lest he remain a one-note character, and he also smartly recognizes that it’s not likely going to be a woman like Barbara, who wants to change pretty much everything about him from the ground up.
So, an older, wiser woman makes sense, when you think about it, and Levitt is smart enough not to make out like there’s going to be some big, life-changing romance between these two, either, which is why it sort of works, more or less. But really, it’s a small quibble, as Levitt gets so much right overall, from the removed distance from which men view porn to the unfair expectations women who regularly watch rom-coms have when it comes to the men in their lives.
I also loved the details of the story: the fact that Barbara discovers Jon’s porn obsession via exploring his browser history, which of course, he has no idea is even a thing (cut to him- and no doubt some guys who see this movie- immediately learning to clear his browser history, stat); the gloriously foul-mouthed father, Jon Sr. (Tony Danza, knocking it out of the park); the worried mother, Angela (Glenne Headly); and especially the ever-texting sister, Monica (Brie Larson), who serves as the sort-of Silent Bob of the film (if you haven’t seen Chasing Amy, and you’re a guy, please get thee to a Netflix and do so immediately, as it is very much in this same vein), in that she only speaks once, but when she does, it’s to impart some true wisdom.
Girls, you might want to take some notes, as Levitt gets a whole lot right here, to the point I’m sure some guys who watch this will be like: “Stop giving away our secrets!” But he also gets a lot right about the women, too, so judge not ladies, lest you be judged. There may not have been a lot of laughing on their end, but that’s probably because they knew Levitt got it right with them as well. Honestly, though, I can’t help but think women will be fascinated by all of this, as it’s kind of like a window into the lives of a certain type of guy- it’s kind of the male equivalent of Sex and the City, if you will.
Levitt also does a great job of remaking his image, losing himself completely in the character, yet somehow managing not to make him completely reprehensible. If anything, it’s Johansson who surprisingly comes off as the villain here, showing that the devil does indeed sometimes wear Prada. And in the most underwritten character, Moore really invests Esther with undeniable gravitas and sympathy in way that goes a long way towards redeeming what could have been a mere plot contrivance.
But ultimately, this is Levitt’s show, as he wrote, directed and starred, and for the most part, he gets it right his first time out. The film has a nice ADD-ridden style that perfectly suits the internet generation, though it might induce porn-ridden seizures in some, given all the quick-cut montages of Jon’s viewing habits, which recalls the style of something like Requiem for a Dream or Trainspotting, when they would show the junkies’ habits in a similar way. That’s actually a better comparison than one might think, as Don Jon is nothing if not about addiction, if a different sort of one than we’re used to seeing.
It remains to be seen whether Levitt will shape up to be one of the better actors-turned-directors, but he’s certainly off to a nice start. I’m going to give this one a solid B+.
Now, off to clear my browser history!