Is there anything Gordon-Levitt can’t do? We’ve seen him crack the child-stardom curse, take on Michael Myers (
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
, spin across the ceiling like Fred Astaire (
), and stick two fingers up to cancer (
But the big question for his debut as writer/director/star is: can he make a compelling, grown-up comedy-drama about a compulsive masturbator?
JGL plays “Don” Jon Martello, styled after the legendary Latin lover, a buff young man with fire in his trousers and a gangsta-rap video playing on repeat in his head. He and his friends hang out at bars, rating girls, who Jon takes home for no-strings sex. It’s not enough.
Jon’s addicted to porn – the only way he can “lose himself” – and encounters with real women leave him hollow. “There is no real-life moneyshot,” he mopes, like a child who’s just discovered that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.
With his chewy New York accent, ’roid rage and thick-necked chutzpah, Jon is a completely believable creation. He’s also an absolute prick, something Gordon-Levitt laudably refuses to shy away from.
As we whizz through his day-to-day life like Boogie Nights at 48fps, the uncomfortable laughs come thick and fast, chiefly because we know something Jon doesn’t: he’s going to meet his match. Enter the ballsy, beautiful, romcom-loving Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, a complete knockout in every sense), stage left.
Flitting from Jon’s sex life to his sitcom family, the confession booth to the console, the first half of the film is scurrilously funny and frank. But there’s something much deeper going on. Staring out at us, dead-eyed, as he masturbates, Jon isn’t just “losing himself”; he’s lost.
Once Jon finds a mentor/mother figure in lonely Esther (Julianne Moore, whose subtlety balances some of the broader, um, strokes), the film tries something really risky, morphing from a turbo-charged sex comedy into a sweet character study, and suffering a little in the transition.
But it’s a testament to Gordon-Levitt’s confidence as an actor, and control as a filmmaker, that however much of a prat Jon may be, we can’t help investing in the possibility of his redemption. And the answer to that question we asked back at the start? A resounding yes.
It doesn’t seem possible, but the boy wonder’s only gone and pulled it off. Smart, witty and more than a little melancholy, Don Jon is a fist-pumping success.
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