London Film Festival 2013 review: Don Jon ★★★☆☆

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It’s very hard not to like rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is attractive, good at his job, and apparently multi-talented: he has now written and directed a movie. It’s a shame that the film, about a porn-addicted young man who tries out a committed relationship, is a rather patchy affair. It could be worse but, then again, it could be a lot better.

Our writer/director is also his own leading man (with an exaggerated New Joiiiiseyy accent) in this tale of sex and semen. For a film preoccupied with masturbation and intercourse, however, it’s curious how conservative Gordon-Levitt is about revealing his own naked frame. Basically, if you go in hoping for some Levitt nudity, you’ll be disappointed.

If you go in hoping for a masterpiece you will also be disappointed, although there is still a lot to enjoy. Though the running jokes become tired quickly, JGL (which he shall henceforth be known, it’s just easier) is inventive when it comes to using smart editing and juxtaposition as tools for humour. Look out for a particularly effective use of the Apple login jingle.

The way women are viewed for most of the film is despicable, but this is obviously deliberate and any misogyny is very self aware. This is not a sexist film, nor does it necessarily support the repulsive views of its leading characters. However, the movie seems awkward when it comes to satirising or condemning such attitudes and although it does deal with the dangerous effects hardcore pornography can have, it naively sidesteps the issue of female-objectification.

Films that feature a host of unlikable and nasty characters are quite often tough to watch and Don Jon doesn’t cleanly drive over this hurdle. The lead character is a flawed hero, and he goes through a suitable redemptive period, but this fails to address more disturbing aspects to his character (such as his frequent use of discriminatory language). When he gets a girlfriend (an unremarkable Scarlet Johansen) he becomes a tad more endearing, but it’s a later relationship that really offers him the opportunity to change for the better.

The most sympathetic role is reserved for Julianne Moore, who is in my opinion one of the best actors working in cinema today. Although there is something downright troubling in the relaxed stance the movie takes to her character’s cannabis use and drug-driving, Moore delivers a beautifully nuanced and very affecting turn as a troubled soul looking for help. If it’s possible for one actor, in a supporting role, to save a movie from mediocrity, Moore does it for Don Jon. In many ways she steals the show and the movie is all the better for it.

Though hardly a disaster, Don Jon leaves a sense of disappointment in the air after its closing scenes. It could do with an enthusiastic edit (a couple of long-running jokes could be dropped completely), but the movie still feels fresher and more alive than many big-name comedies released these days. And in an age when Adam Sandler still brings in big-money with cold, evil films that seem to herald a funeral for all decency and talent, it’s encouraging to see someone like JGL trying to do something different, even if it hasn’t entirely worked this time round.

Don Jon (2013), directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival this October, Certificate 18. The film is released nationwide on 15 November 2013. 

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

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