Before we begin, some honesty: I would see any movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, even if it was four hours long and mindlessly boring, as long as we got to see his face for at least a few minutes. That being said, there are many, many reasons to see Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, and only one of them is the fact that the actor spends a good amount of the movie shirtless. Don Jon (out Sept. 27), written, directed by, and starring Gordon-Levitt as a guy with a porn addiction and relationship issues, is smart, funny, and affecting, one of the most original movies I've seen all year.
Everything about it — the sharp script, the assured directing, the stand-out performances by Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza - makes the movie fantastic, and marks Gordon-Levitt as a director to watch. As I needed another reason to see his movies.
Five reasons you need to see Don Jon:
1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt Proves He's a Triple Threat
It's no secret that Joseph Gordon-Levitt can act. He charmed viewers in (500) Days of Summer, broke hearts in 50/50, and played a young Bruce Willis in Looper with impressive believability. Yet with Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt proves that acting is far from the only skill he possesses, and maybe not even his best one. He directs the film with incredible confidence, making every scene and every line feel authentic and real.
The funny, smart script would be strong enough regardless of who was behind the camera, but Gordon-Levitt manages to take it into another level. There are parts of Don Jon that could easily have felt cliched or annoying, but with him calling the shots, everything just feels right. It's so self-assured, so polished, that it's unfathomable that it's Gordon-Levitt's writing/directing debut. He's a skilled actor, but Don Jon shows that his real talent lies in his ability to create and control scenes with unparalleled ease.
2. It's Explicit — For a Good Reason
It seems that today, too many directors believe that the more (female) skin is shown in a movie, the more successful the movie will be. Unfortunately, they're almost always right — audiences love naked women, and they're often way too willing to forgive meandering plots and terrible acting as long as the movie earns its R rating. Like those movies, Don Jon contains a whole lot of female nudity, but unlike the others, it does it for a good reason. Gordon-Levitt's Jon is a porn-addicted, self-obsessed guy who objectifies women with a disturbing ease. A large part of his day-to-day life consists of seeing naked women, both in real life and on his computer screen.
Don Jon makes frequent use of "the male gaze," but unlike so many other male-directed movies, there's a point; Jon sees women solely for their looks, and in order to make his character believable, viewers have to see what he sees every time he meets someone female - boobs, ass, and then, maybe, face. There are plenty of explicit scenes in Don Jon, yes, but they're there to make the viewer realize how much "Don Jon" enjoys living up to his nickname.
3. The Women Have More Flaws Just Than Just Being "Clumsy"
Hollywood has made huge strides over the past few years in showing realistic, three-dimensional women in the movies, but as anyone who went to a superhero movie this summer knows, there's still a long way to go before females are given on-screen equality. Even when female characters are shown to have flaws, they're often something as minor as being ditsy or clumsy, and they're used solely to make the male protagonist realize important truths about himself.
Don Jon may focus on a man, but its supporting female characters are more than just one-dimensional tools to enhance Gordon-Levitt's character. Scarlett Johansson's Barbara begins as a hot, confident dream girl, but as the movie progresses, we see the flaws in her character — and there are plenty. She's demanding, unrealistic, and naive, and while she does allow for Jon's personal growth, she's complex enough to stand on her own. Julianne Moore's Esther, too, is more than just an older-woman cliche. She teaches Jon invaluable lessons, yes, but reveals of her backstory and own motivations unveil her character as wonderfully multi-faceted.
All of the movie's women have stories and emotions of their own, and thanks to Gordon-Levitt's script, they're realistically complicated.
4. You'll Fall in Love with Joseph Gordon-Levitt All Over Again
Only Joseph Gordon-Levitt could play a porn-addicted lothario who literally takes his nickname from "Don Juan" and still make you want to take him home to meet mom and dad. Saying the 32-year-old is "adorable" feels like an insult, but it's true; his baby face and huge smile make him good-looking, yes, but more so, cute. It's the reason we aww-ed over him in 10 Things I Hate About You, supported him post-breakup in (500) Days of Summer, and sat through the maddeningly boring Lincoln (okay, maybe that one's just me.) In Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt is sexy and sweet, charming his way back into your hearts, as if he'd ever left in the first place.
5. It's One of the Funniest Movies of the Year
Even if Gordon-Levitt wasn't the star, Don Jon would still be one of the smartest, funniest movies of the year. The dialogue is witty and sharp, never more so than in the scenes containing conversations between Jon and other men. When he and his male friends huddle in a bar to rate the attractiveness of nearby women on a scale of 1-10, it makes the feminist in you cringe, but it's so representative of how normal guys talk that you can't help but respect it for its realism. When Jon introduces Barbara to his parents and his father compliments Jon on nabbing a girl so attractive (in more colorful words), you wince at his candor, but admire its genuine feel.
It helps that each exchange is hilarious, filled with spot-on observations and laugh-out-loud jokes. Don Jon is uproariously funny, and its tone allows for the deepest moments of the movie to not feel cliched or added-on. It's a well-acted, well-written movie, but more than anything else, it's one of the most consistently entertaining movies of the year. Don't miss it.