‘Don Jon’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:31 pm,

Joseph Gordon Levitt writes directs and stars in Don Jon 2013 Don Jon Review

Gordon-Levitt offers something that is funny, witty, honest and eventually heartfelt, without having to pander to the saccharine fantasies or gross-out raunch humor.

Don Jon centers on its titular protagonist, Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Jersey boy who is all about his pad, his car, his body, his family, his boys – his girls – his church… and his porn. With a life metered out by one-night stands and a lot of pornography, Jon seems content – that is, until he meets The One.

Her name is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), and in Jon’s book she is a certified “dime.” Only thing is, Barbara’s a traditional Italian catholic girl, raised on romance movie expectations of courtship (a.k.a. no sex, just dating). With a unique challenge in front of him, Jon must re-evaluate his personal values, and question whether his metered life and porn obsession are signs of something deeper that needs correcting.

Don Jon Review starring Josephy Gordon Levitt and Scarlett Johansson Don Jon Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Don Jon’

The brainchild of writer/director/star Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon is a smart, witty and insightful modern romance tale that is as much tailored for the male crowd as it is the female crowd. Not only does Gordon-Levitt’s script brim with authenticity in both its insights and accuracy, his directorial instincts are surprisingly sharp and stylized for a first-time feature-film helmer. Don Jon (especially its first half) is crafted in a way that offers the viewer an experience that is visually engaging and entertaining – exactly what you want from cinema.

There are shades of early Guy Ritchie and/or Darren Aronofsky in the meticulous and repetitive high-speed sequencing that conveys Jon’s circular life patterns; it’s good gimmickry at first, but later on the director manages to settle into a rhythm and style that seems more uniquely his own, revealing a sensitivity to, and ability to convey, real emotional drama and character depth. There is also definite development that is well-paced through both the character and narrative arcs, and a thematic core which attempts to – and ultimately does – say something about modern day notions of sex and love in a way that is highly palatable to the young adults the film is aimed at.

Jeremy Luke Rob Brown and Joseph Gordon Levitt in Don Jon Don Jon Review

Are there, at times, signs of a cinematic storyteller still trying to find his way? Of course there are – not all the seams are hidden in this film. The last act, while smart and emotionally insightful, starts to drag; Barbara’s character could’ve been fleshed out more, etc. However, Gordon-Levitt has clearly soaked up good ideas and creative techniques from the multitude of skilled people he has worked with over the years – and then, found a way to transmogrify those borrowed elements into a voice that is distinctly his own, and a filmmaking style that’s on its way to being distinctly his own.

It certainly helps to have a skilled cast of actors backing you up while you’re trying make your filmmaking debut – and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fortunate enough to have had that in his corner.

First off, he has himself to thank for turning in a good leading performance. Even when discussing some of the crassest subject matter possible – while dropping some pretty crass views through spot-on voiceover narration – Jon is nonetheless a charming and charismatic guy worth following through this very unconventional love story. The fact that Gordon-Levitt had time and energy to expend on writing, directing, AND turning in a strong lead performance is just further testament to his skills as an overall filmmaker.

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon Levitt in Don Jon 2013 Don Jon Review

Scarlett Johansson is sometimes labeled as being too wooden and unremarkable in her roles – but to her credit, in Don Jon she does create a strong character in Barbara, down to her thick Jersey brogue, which is distracting at first (coming from Black Widow), but eases into the ear as the film progresses. Johansson is also good about conveying subtle but iron-clad will underneath her bombshell looks – especially important as it becomes increasingly apparent to Jon (and the audience) that this goddess he has on the pedestal may not be as divine as he initially thought.

Beyond the two leads, the film is bolstered by a cast of great supporting actors. When you want the dramatic end of a movie locked-up, Julianne Moore is the actress you want to call. As Esther, the quirky older lady who attends Jon’s night class, Moore once again does the job of bringing the more serious side of the story to life in a way that isn’t overly melodramatic or out of step with the tone of the film. She’s the perfect delivery system for Gordon-Levitt’s pontifications about love, relationships and people, selling the preachier material in a stripped-down, no-nonsense way that is deceptively natural.

Tony Danza and Glenne Headly in Don Jon 2013 Don Jon Review

Tony Danza and Glenne Headly in ‘Don Jon’

On the other end of that spectrum are actors like Tony Danza, Glenne Headley and Brie Larson, who ham it up (one way or another) to play Jon’s family. Danza especially steals the show as Jon Sr., the prototypical example of the faux machismo Jon Jr. bases his personality on. Good to see Danza back, and putting his comedic skills to proper use. Larson, meanwhile, has the most fun of the entire cast, as her role is pretty much relegated to constantly texting on her phone while looking utterly bored and uninvolved with the rom-drama. A pretty amusing running gag in the film.

In the end, Gordon-Levitt offers something that is funny, witty, honest and eventually heartfelt, without having to pander to the saccharine fantasies or gross-out raunch humor that have become the two main lanes of rom-com cinema. This is a date movie whose boldness, edge and careful handling of some volatile material truly makes it balanced and engaging to both sides of the gender spectrum. By the time the credits roll, you won’t just leave the theater feeling entertained – you’ll leave with something to talk about. And for a first-timer, crafting a film that gets people talking is quite an accomplishment.

Too bad if you’re a non-fan of JGL; it doesn’t look like the kid is going to be drowning in these deeper waters of filmmaking. His breaststroke is strong. The Don has arrived.

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Don Jon is now in theaters. It is 90 min and is rated Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
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  1. Wow this movie got 4 stars? I’m shock. Not that i’m saying it’s a bad thing, but screen rant usually don’t give out a lot of 4 stars like that.

  2. Kofi? Not hating my friend because i trust your judgement. You gave “MOS” 4 stars also and i loved that movie. “In Kofi i trust” Lol.

    • Kofi is the man!

  3. Wow this sounds like me however I’m also addicted to science and don’t have “one-night” stands. Who thinks Joseph Gordon-Levitt did this to get “CLOSE” to Scarlett Johansson.(I don’t blame him) She really needs to be in Agents of SHIELD or have her own film.

      • I’m becoming director

  4. LMAO. Jon’s situation sounds a lot like mine. I’ll take the squeeze to this one.

    • lmao? it sounds like me as well however I’m also addicted to science and don’t have “one-night” stands.

  5. So why would the very Jewish JGL write himself as a Catholic in this film?

    Hollywood Jews are so proud of trashing Christianity any chance they get. They never let you forget they are Jewish until it comes time to write a sleazy movie… which would never portray them in a poor light.

    Im sure JGL would never dream of this character being portrayed as a Jew who enjoys his porn and womanizes around town. That would be to realistic.

    • Do you really not realize how utterly inane you sound spouting such nonsensical blather?


    • Make love not war. Religion or faith is about people and their personal relationship with their diety. Stop spreading ignorance b.

    • Sounds like the Easter Bunny slamming Santa to me.

    • WTF dude? did u really go there? wow. just, no.

      • Why don’t you try and refute his point instead of spouting cliches? What gives JGL the right to mock a religion that isn’t his? Or to pretend he knows anything about it? If he had done the same movie making his character Muslim or even Jewish (his own religion) he’d have been raked over the coals. Catholics are just supposed to roll over and take it when their religion is mocked — and inaccurately at that.

  6. Dope, I can’t wait to check this out. Joseph Gordon Levitt is one of the most talented dudes in the business.

  7. One of the most attractive women in the biz and JGL my mancrush.. This movie might be too much for me haha.

  8. Kofi had a strong closing sentence. Great review. I’m looking forward to it.

  9. Hold me closer Tony Danza.

    • +1

    • LOL

    • +1

  10. Transmogrify? I feel dumb…

  11. I really don’t get the appeal of this movie. I want to really, but evey clip I have seen and every discription is just blah. What am I missing?

    • You’re not missing anything, it’s just not your kind of movie. You don’t have to like what everyone else likes. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

  12. I saw this movie this morning. Very good movie. JGL did a great job in his role and the movie just has that “I can relate” feel to it that makes it much better than it might actually be. The storyline is pretty basic but well written. ScarJo is well worth the money alone, LOL

  13. I’m really happy for JGL. When I saw that you guys received the movie so well I went over to rottentomatoes, and it seems that a great deal of other critics have similar feelings. I plan on seeing it soon for myself too. Maybe I’ll feel the same. Hopefully, I mean, wouldn’t want to spend 12 bucks to sit in a theater chair disappointed seat for close to 2 hours.

  14. Nice strong closing sentence there; I felt the same way after watching the film. Strong debut with some issues but the positives far outweigh the negatives here. Those opening credits were phenomenal ! Editing and sound were great fun as well.

  15. Wow, is it really that good? I saw it and immediately though Jeresy Shore on steroids

    • You mean that you saw the movie, or the preview?

      • Preview lol, should’ve been more specific, sorry.

  16. Kofi, great review. One copyedit: You have “sing” instead of “sign” in “Are there, at times, sings of a cinematic storyteller still trying to find his way?”

  17. JGL naked…. i’m there.

  18. I watched this movie today in theaters and, in all honesty, did not find it appealing. The plot was too simplistic…guy is shallow and has a porn addiction, guy falls “in love” with young girl who he constantly tries to one up his friends with, and than guy dates an older woman who takes on the “mommy” role in some very obvious ways. The movie had over the top porn scenes, which I feel did nothing to improve it’s plot. I realize the lead character is addicted to porn, but it was dwelled on more than it should have been. Almost no one in my region went to see it… and I can see why. Plus, the characters reminded me a little too much of Jersey Shore.

  19. I’m sorry, but this was one of the worst movies I’ve seen. There was so much foul language and porno clips that there really wasn’t much acting being done. Julianne Moore was the only one worth watching and she had a small part. I didn’t hear much laughter in the theater I went to so it wasn’t just me. This was far from a romantic comedy, more like a trashy porn story trying to be legitimate. Don’t waste your money or time. If you’re into this kind of stuff be sure who you’re taking with you…fair warning.

    • They don’t actually show you a single moment of hardcore porn. It’s actually just cleverly edited clips and sounds of porn.

      It’s like people who think the elevator scene in ‘Drive’ is so horrifying when really you don’t see the violence being done.

  20. This would be like watching a movie about myself with more attractive people. Just cut out most of the one night stands though.