Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Don Jon

Gordon-Levitt's debut is sleak and smart but sometimes undercut by its own glossy production. Michael Brennan reviews

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don-jon-danzaDirector: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore
Running Time:90 minutes

Seductive glances, lips slightly parted: the alluring promise of sex. And this is just the advertising before the film, used to sell cars, insurance and car insurance. Three boys, their legs propped up on the seats in front, half-watch, half-glance down to their phones: unable to break apart from this world of technology, even when paying extortionate cinema ticket prices.

It is these two elements of the modern age which Don Jon speaks about: our obsession with sex, our obsession with technology and how the latter distorts our perception of the former. The title is an allusion to the Byronic womaniser Don Juan. But despite being a happy, sexually active Jersey douchebag, technology has turned the modern-day Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) into a porn addict who prefers losing himself in the fantasy to having to compromise with the practicalities of real life.

The film's use of the details of modern communication - the buzz of a vibrating phone, the sound of a Macbook starting up and the thrill of finding someone on Facebook - rings true. But other times Gordon-Levitt's direction tries so hard to imbue every frame with meaning that the obsession with technology borders on caricature. The extent of Jon's sister's commitment to her phone, while humorous, is so exaggerated that it trivialises Jon's genuine addiction.
The repetitive cycle which the film undergoes, while frustrating to watch at times, conveys the ways he has to cope with this addiction, showing the small, subtle changes which take place within his struggle to keep it hidden from his girlfriend Barbara. Scarlet Johansson gives an effective 'Jerseylicious' performance, her surface-level 'love' and attractive features quietly contrasted with a fragile vulnerability and a subtle manipulation, though the film thankfully refuses to demonise or victimise her.

The film sometimes feels undercut by the glossy production values: it boosts a colourful palette, swelling score and slick editing, alongside a couple of distracting celebrity cameos. Don Jon is most affecting when it gels with its own message, that of stripping things back to the basics in life. And the moments where it engages rather than simply preaches are when the audience are able to truly lose themselves in the film. If they're not too busy on their smartphones.

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