28 September, 2013

Review: "Don Jon" (****½)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson star in "Don Jon"

For all three of you itching for an “Angels in the Outfield” reunion, look no further. Okay, maybe it’s not the full-blown thing you were hoping for, but it does reunite Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his pal Tony Danza, and that’s just going to have to do. Gordon-Levitt steps up to the plate (okay, that’s the last “Angels in the Outfield” reference) as writer, director and star of his massively impressive passion project, “Don Jon."

“Don Jon” tells the story of Jon Matello. He’s a New Jersey cool guy who, as we learn in the first few stylish minutes of the film, loves only a few things: his body, his pad, his ride, his church, his family, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Originally the movie was entitled “Don Jon’s Addiction." As that title might suggest, Gordon-Levitt’s character has an addiction to pornography that is hopelessly life consuming. Jon doesn’t really see it as a problem, but does sense there might be something wrong. He goes out with his buddies to clubs to pick up girls, but nothing really satisfies Jon as much as the porn. His life is pretty simple up until it gets in the way of his addiction. He meets a drop-dead gorgeous Jersey girl played perfectly by Scarlett Johansson, who is as good at teasing men as she is at chewing gum. She agrees to date him under the condition that he always tells her the truth.

Jon eats lunch with his family every Sunday after church. His aggressive football-loving father played by Tony Danza is a man’s man and is clearly where Jon gets most of his bad habits. Glenne Headly plays his mother and the only thing she wants more than a daughter-in-law is a grandbaby. The scenes with the family around the table are some of the best in the movie. Gordon-Levitt’s script feels particularly true here, allowing the characters to feel authentic and letting their unconventional conversations explain exactly who they are. Brie Larson plays his hilariously quiet, eye-rolling sister.

There’s a mish-mash of styles here. With hints of “Goodfellas,” “500 Days of Summer” and even “Requiem for a Dream,” “Don Jon” feels as wildly new and inventive as it does familiar. The soundtrack is upbeat and exciting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the star, but it’s his direction that gives the film the fresh pop that makes it so enjoyable to watch. He hits you over the head with repetitiveness to show the stagnant nature of routine, effectively showing Jon as someone who isn’t living to their fullest potential.

The gut-punch third act is terrifically unexpected. Julianne Moore’s performance as a fellow night school student is great opposite Gordon-Levitt. The film lets us fill in certain blanks and the intelligent script even allows for different interpretations of this layered film’s many meanings.

“Don Jon” constantly surprises and throws narrative clichés out the window. As Jon’s journey leads him to unexpected places, the movie really starts to reveal itself as the powerful piece of art that it is. “Don Jon” is fresh, exciting, hilarious and one of the most wholly original films I’ve seen all year.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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