It’s an age old, silent agreement within relationships, we don’t ask and they don’t tell about porn watching habits but sometimes, a predilection for the erotic online arts can cause more mischief than riddling a laptop with pop-ups.
In Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s eagerly awaited directorial debut, Don Jon, everyone’s indie sweetheart is transformed as the pumped up, slicked back Jon Martello, also known as ‘Don Jon’ to his boys for his innate ability to smash. For those not up on their New Jersey vernacular, ‘smash’ is an affectionate phrase for ‘successfully attract the ladies’. Now, Don Jon has little trouble attracting the ladies, as evinced by the series of repeated gyratory encounters, sound tracked with the same pumping beats, perfectly demonstrating his template seduction technique with a near perfect success rate. The problem with Don Jon is that while those beautiful ladies may fall victim to his looks and charm, his mind is undoubtedly elsewhere, namely what is on his laptop. Don Jon is addicted to pornography.
All goes well, balancing love between the sheets with love online, until he meets the ‘dime’ that is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a blonde bombshell in an eye-popping dress who seems resilient to the Don’s moves. The prettiest thing he’s ever seen, Jon makes it his mission to win her over and become a changed man – but this might be harder than first expected. Pun very much intended.
From the opening scenes, Don Jon is not afraid to let us see the illustrious internet history of this young man in all its heaving, wide-eyed glory. But rather than being a tit for tat excuse for some big screen flesh, the images that flood Jon’s existence, indeed along with the rest of the film, is slickly edited in such a way that it serves to complement the open narration throughout the film. Like it or not, this is his mind and we are willing voyeurs. Don Jon is certainly an unconventional character study but one that is well placed in today’s sex obsessed, consumer society where men are men and women are naked.
While Don Jon may almost miss the money-shot when it tries to balance the sex with the softer stuff, played out through his friendship with the wonderfully ditzy Julianne Moore, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines the brightest, as both screen-writer and actor, through his astute and witty characterisations. His scenes around the dinner table with his father, the hilarious Tony Danza and his hysterical mother desperate for him to settle down, are fantastic moments of commentary – and comedy. A typical Italian boy, going to church, saying his hail Mary’s (handy for counting reps at the gym), enjoying his mum’s home cooked meals – Jon is a good egg really and this is what makes him a strangely likeable dirt bag.
A slick, full-frontal look at addiction, masculinity and the porn loving habits of the internet generation, this fun and sexy debut Don Jon shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt finally move away from boy-you-want-to-take-home-to-mother to a director and writer to watch.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, takes place until 20 October 2013. View the programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff