Joseph Gordon Levitt is an actor on the rise. With major roles in big studio pictures like Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper and 500 Days of Summer, he’s reached a point in his career where he can do just about anything he chooses. Perhaps the actor’s greatest quality is his ability to infuse his characters with a certain degree of charm that makes them immensely likeable. It’s no surprise then that he brings that same quality to his confident directorial debut Don Jon – a sex comedy that brings on the laughs but also isn’t afraid to get serious when it has to.
Levitt stars as Jon Martello, a smug and slimy New Jersey bartender who has earned the nickname “Don Jon” because of his prowess with picking up women. As he tells us in the film’s slick opening monologue, Jon’s life revolves around his body, his pad, his car, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. That last aspect in particular is his specialty. You see, although Jon has no trouble with women, he finds sex unsatisfactory when compared to the pleasure he gets from watching porn. Why waste time with all the foreplay when you can get straight to the point with porn, he argues.
His arguments get a little misty when he gets involved with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a stunning “10” who forces him to play by her rules. For starters, she won’t sleep with him on the first date. She also insists that he go with her to watch sappy romantic comedies, and most important of all – never lie to her. Although Jon is ready to give up his lothario ways for her (who wouldn’t – it’s Scarlett Johansson), giving up porn is a different matter entirely. But hiding an addiction isn’t simple and it isn’t too long before Barbara, herself deluded by a fairy tale life dictated by Hollywood rom-coms, finds out.
Although Don Jon is first and foremost a comedy – the film is intentionally brimmed with characters that resemble ethnic caricatures, can be downright filthy, and resorts more often than it should on below-the-belt humor – it’s also surprisingly insightful and on-the-nose when it comes to portraying the topic of pornography, its effect on male sexuality, and how it has become a problem among many millennial-generation men. And even though Levitt doesn’t completely succeed in exploring the subject – none of the Catholic references and metaphors add anything to the picture, and the film ends awkwardly – his flair with the camera, superb comedic timing and gift at eliciting strong performances from a game supporting cast that includes Tony Danza (hilarious), Glenne Headly, Brie Larson and Julianne Moore as an older widow who befriends Don, make the film a breeze.