Don Jon is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut and as a first effort the young and talented actor has made a good stab at portraying how men and women’s attitudes to real-life relationships are truly distorted to the point of perversity be the fictional versions that pervade our lives.
Having seen the ‘talking heads’ extras on the Blu Ray afterwards I am now fully aware that the whole premise and setting is ‘heightened’ and not meant to be fully realistic. Prior to this viewing I was very confused during the home scenes the whole ‘Raging Bull’ white vest, sweary, ‘I’m watching the football’ set up was clichéd with a capital C. Was it a pastiche or did the film-maker really think that if you live in New Jersey and you happen to be working class you are automatically like this? Or do I have no idea what I’m talking about because I’m not from the USA and I’ve never met anyone from New Jersey? Having said that to me it seemed perhaps a bit too unrealistic or heightened to be comfortable for viewing – it did take me out of some moments.
Having said that the attitudes to women by the Gordon-Levitt’s character and to relationships by Johansson’s Barbara showed a good understanding of what the entertainment industry has taken out of people in the latter part of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. It is no exaggeration that many young men see women as just sex objects for pawing and using for gratification and the writhing, plastic, screaming bodies that watch time after time are what women are like and how they behave, likewise the romantic versions portrayed by Hollywood equally believed by some women to the extent that if their lives and events surrounding them don’t mirror what is shown on the silver screen that they are somehow failures. Live, love and sex is never as easy and clear cut as what we have spoon-fed to us.
Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore both play their roles as clearly marked opposites, for my Johansson’s character is probably too much ‘New Joowsey princess’ but that is clearly how JGL wanted the role to be played, big broad strokes, you’re not going to mistake Barbara for a complex, many layered character. Moore’s character again is played with no real complexity just enough to show that she is diametrically opposite to Barbara apart from age. This character writing perhaps sells both actresses short but for the purposes of the story you know exactly what Jon is getting from both of these women in his life. The acting by these two ladies is nothing more than you would expect, so Gordon-Levitt was already onto a winner before the cameras rolled.
Veteran of TV sitcom Taxi, Tony Danza, seems to just be playing the same character but older and married from the original sitcom. It seems once again to be layered on thick and the family scenes weaken the story for me. Particularly as Brie Larson. who is one the best young actresses around at the moment, is criminally underused with virtually one line of dialogue, although it is an important line. Was she getting paid a lot extra if she spoke? Criminally underused – I’ll say it again.
Rob Brown as one Jon’s ‘crew’ is effortlessly easy and relaxed in his role and was so natural and realistic at times he stuck out like a sore thumb – surely he has a big future in acting?
Overall I applaud the story and message Joseph Gordon-Levitt made with his film and already a fine actor there is enough in this film with the pacing and set-ups to see he also has a great future in directing and writing but my only criticism would be the tone was hard to understand. Was it a slight pastiche of the blue collar dramas that have come out of the US of the years? Was it meant to be ‘kitchen sink’ realistic? The vests, chewing gum and sweary dinnertimes would say so – if not then perhaps as JGL gets more skilled with directing he will get more nuanced too.