“Don Jon” is an energetically refreshing take on romantic comedy

By Jeremy Paskoff


It is rare these days to see a film that truly stands out from the crowd. We almost never see a movie that takes a genre and approaches it with a never-before-seen twist, shattering the conventions of the classical Hollywood narrative. “Don Jon” does all of these things, and with style.

Directed by and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film follows Jon, a porn-obsessed gym rat and lady-killer. Jon is notorious to his friends for having one-night stands with women, but breaks his mold when he meets Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson. Barbara is less than charmed by Jon’s ploys, and demands that the two take their relationship slow, entirely contrary to what Jon is used to. After a few months, both parties’ opinions of each other start to change, and Jon remains more content with his pornography than his girlfriend.

What’s interesting about “Don Jon” is the fascinating spin Gordon-Levitt takes on the romantic comedy. The film is blatantly raunchy, dispersing clips of actual pornography throughout, accentuating its overt sexual tones. The insertion of pornography into a film and making it into a full-fledged aspect of the story is something I’ve never seen before. Also straying from the more straight-forward rom-com tropes is the addition of another, older love-interest, played by Julianne Moore. Not many rom-coms address the age gap between relationships, which makes the tale feel all the more fresh.

The writing stands out the most, with a blend of unpredictable punch lines, as well as common rom-com jokes. A lot of the dialogue is very atypical of Hollywood film, which is refreshing, but often the extensive use of profanity becomes too excessive. This is perhaps symptomatic of comedy these days, but it doesn’t make it any less off-putting.

This is the first feature film from Gordon-Levitt’s production company, hitRECord. The company is known predominantly for its diversity in production, ranging from music to short films. The company also allows users who join to “REmix” the works of other users, enabling a wholly collaborative experience for its members. This raw creativity is clear throughout “Don Jon,” giving it a homegrown, grassroots feel.

Gordon-Levitt truly brings his characters to life, creating an almost superlative ensemble. Each player is highly hyperbolized, from the ‘Jersey Boy’ ladies’ man Jon to the delusional, shallow and hyper-beautiful Barbara. The only downfall in the acting is the Jersey stereotypes. Accents constantly teeter between being horrendously offensive and spot-on. Fortunately, most of the criticisms of the film come from crossing this line; a problem that Gordon-Levitt can easily remedy in his next work.

The film’s runtime of 90 minutes gives the film a smooth pace, devoid of any unnecessary scenes. Although the sequences where Jon browses the web for porn, lifts weights at the gym and atones for his sins at church seem repetitive, it is reflective of his day-to-day life; every scene feels like it belongs exactly in its place. The shot selection and editing is stylish as well, and the return to familiar themes – like listening to the number of Hail Mary’s Jon has to say for in confession – often provide laughs.

It’s always interesting to see a well-known actor take a stab at directing and Gordon-Levitt proved himself nicely in this installment. The overall feel of “Don Jon” is incredibly enjoyable and I found myself consistently amused throughout. Hopefully his next film will remedy the minor transgressions in “Don Jon.” For my part, I’m certainly looking forward to whatever Gordon-Levitt and hitREcord can do next.

Jeremy Paskoff can be reached at [email protected]