Don Jon: ****/*****, or 7/10
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in and wrote this film, his directorial debut, which in a comedic tone explores the life of a porn-addict: apparently the fringes of socially accepted sexual behavior continue to be of interest to him (e.g. Mysterious Skin, where he played a young hustler). Jon (G-L) apparently has it all: he's good looking, has a nice car, some close friends to bro down with, he loves his family and his church and he can all too easily score with girls. But what interests him the most is porn, the only thing he can totally loose himself in. Real girls just don't cut it compared to the wild excess he witnesses in porn. And that's not likely to change, until he meets 'perfect dime' Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at his local club and starts actively pursuing her, as she's the closest he has ever come to falling in love with anyone. Unfortunately for him, Barbara doesn't make it easy and has a long list of changes in store, not so much for him as to satiate her own view of what a prospective partner ought to be. Porn is unsurprisingly off the table, as is lying, after which Jon soon discovers how much of an addict he really is, as he can't stop watching the former and consequently doing the latter. Set in an outrageous stereotypical 'Joysee' milieu (if you can't stand those awfully annoying accents you would do well to stay away from this film), Don Jon proves a quirky, at times witty comedy that makes no illusions it doesn't have grand notions to share with its audience when it comes to addictions, porn or otherwise. Its ultimate message appears to be 'if you want to find real love, be yourself and don't let it change you into someone you're not'. It doesn't take the audience long to learn that lesson – unlike Jon himself, fairly thick-headed as he is: he concurrently, much to his dismay, learns too late there's an option to erase his online browsing history too – as we swiftly see Barbara for what she is: a vain and overly demanding broad who insists Jon must give up his idiosyncrasies and private aspirations to satisfy her personal take on a good match, all brainwashed by the absurd simplistic fairy tales she takes for real life that she has seen in too many romantic comedies, which Don Jon convincingly equates with pornography, except the female counterpart. The stuff seen in typical Hollywood dreck about romance and marriage – exemplified by a short sample of such fare featuring funny cameos by Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum – is just as much a work of gender defining fantasy as the carnal possibilities porn generally delivers, and a successful match that triggers genuine love both compromises and balances these two paradigms. It takes Jon a lot longer to realize this than us, the audience, though we are surprised at the outcome as he eventually runs off with someone we wouldn't have expected (thanks to the typical cinematic standards Hollywood has imbued us with, which Don Jon sometimes feels like breaking). Meanwhile, we are treated to a gutsy comedy that only narrowly escaped an NC-17 rating thanks to all the talk about hardcore sexual intercourse (the film's end credits reveal the Pornhub site was a minor partner, while a pornography consultant was also employed). Admittedly, it does come off as preachy a bit towards its climax, at which point the number of laughs also drops, but until that time we witness a strong cast deliver terrifically funny performances with a good sense of timing. Gordon-Levitt and Johansson are particularly hilarious as the would-be star couple, evenly matched towards one another and fortunately sharing a good deal of chemistry. Also of note is Julianne Moore as an oddball older woman in a semi-mentor role that ends up differently than we might have foreseen. As a director and writer, G-L is off to a decent start as he clearly inspires enthusiasm in his fellow actors and successfully balances both directorial duties and a star performance, while tackling a fairly heavy topic with surprising ease, albeit for laughs more than for actual audience contemplation.