TIFF Review: Don Jon

Smart, fun, hilarious, sexy and confident… and I’m not just talking about Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Don Jon is JGL’s entertaining screenwriting and directorial debut.

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“Don” Jon Martello (a thoroughly guido’d JGL) cares about a few things in his life: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. His life is relatively routine, until he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a bona-fide “dime” – a girl who represents everything he’s ever wanted – but somehow, doesn’t make him happy. Jon develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

His buddies even call him “Don” Jon because of his ability to pull “10s” (dimes) every weekend without fail. Yet all the women in the world wouldn’t compare to the bliss and escape he experiences when alone in front of the computer watching pornography.

Don Jon is an engaging character drama about a modern day Don Juan. It’s about addiction and identity. Jon’s life is compartmentalized, neatly divided into his few necessities (his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, his porn) with his addiction to porn becoming a more prominent issue as his relationships with women progress.

The film itself is a little imbalanced and repetitive – laying it on thick, and including gratuitous footage because with an R-rating – it can. Even with all the “adult entertainment” strewn throughout the film, it’s an awkwardly hilarious film – or maybe it was more awkward given the fact that JGL was sitting directly 6 rows behind me as I watched Don Jon “take care of himself”.  I laughed a lot in this film – there’s some good writing, and equally good comedic timing in this cast.

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You can tell that JGL is having a lot of fun in this role. He embodies the character’s swagger – from his slicked back hair to his tough guy strut. JGL proves that he’s a charismatic leading man, even when he’s playing an obnoxious, testosterone-driven stereotype of a Jersey guy. I especially loved the “confessional” scenes, with Jon admitting, with startling accuracy, the number of sins committed each week.

Even with all the good in this film, Don Jon feels disjointed. It starts out with a high energy intro – attuned to the meat-head ladies’ man that JGL portrays early on, and in its latter, it half becomes a bit more heavy. It’s a great transformation in theory – but the development of Jon’s character from lothario to admitted addict is really sudden. I really liked the first half of the film. It’s so loud, fun and over-the-top, and I think it could have visually carried on this way while still exploring some of the darker elements of Jon’s addiction. Maybe I’m being too hard on this film (ugh….innuendos).

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While taking night classes (at the behest of Barbara), Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), an older woman who becomes a friend and confidant for Jon in exploring and understanding his addiction. I didn’t really get the connection that these two characters share – and how quickly it escalates. Esther’s character feels a little out of place in the context of the other characters – but I think that’s the point, and the reason why Jon is able to open up to her – because she doesn’t fit into any of his boxes (his body, his pad, his ride, etc…).

The Martello family, headed by Tony “Who’s the Boss” Danza is unbelievably funny, loud and obnoxious – and by far my favourite part of the film. As Jon Sr., Tony Danza is a brute, super-loud, football-loving, and a little sleazy guy. I loved it! Glenne Headly is really great as Angela (really laying it on thick with the Who’s the Boss!), Jon’s nagging mother. Brie Larson, playing Monica – Jon’s younger text-obsessed sister manages to steal the thunder of the entire Martello family, delivering only one line with absolute hilarity. I wish there were more scenes with the Martellos and Jon’s goofy friends (the perpetual wing-men: Bobby as played by Rob Brown and Danny played by Jeremy Luc)!

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Scarlett “Snooki” Johansson is such a classic Jersey girl as Barbara. She captures every stereotypical mannerism (nails done, hair did, everything did) flawlessly. In Jon and Barbara, JGL has created his and hers versions of the Jersey Shore – something that really works on screen. These two have such great chemistry. It’s unfortunate that Barbara’s character doesn’t get the same character development that Jon or even Esther gets. ScarJo looks phenomenal in the film though – every bit the dime that she’s supposed to be.

The film looks good. It’s got punchy visuals – and the attractive cast doesn’t hurt it either.  Look out for great cameos by Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as Hollywood stars in epic blockbusters.

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Don Jon – Toronto International Film Festival – Premiere – Sept 10, 2013

I stayed for the Q&A portion of the TIFF premiere, and found that JGL is every bit as handsome and charming as you’d expect him to be (trust me….90% of the theatre melted into the seats). The Q&A portion made me like the film more than I think I would’ve if I’d seen it in a regular screening [as JGL took to the stage, I admittedly proceeded to fan-girl flail].

He’s really proud of his directorial debut – and he should be. Even if Don Jon is a little self-important at times, it’s a fun film that is most definitely not for everyone.

Don Jon is a solid effort that shows a lot of promise of JGL’s talents both in front of and behind the camera.

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