Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers), Julianne Moore (Crazy Stupid Love), Tony Danza (Crash)
Writer/Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes
Release Date: 27 September (US), 15 November (UK)
Many actors have attempted to make the leap into the director’s chair. Sometimes, they make great films; George Clooney and Ben Affleck are great examples of this. Other times, the results are mixed such as the spotty filmography of Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner. And then there’s William Shatner. Need I say more? So now that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gotten his chance to call the shots, which camp does he fall into?
Don Jon does follow the typical structure of the romantic comedy almost exactly, but it gets away with it because it is aware of it; an early scene where Jon (Gordon-Levitt) deconstructs the plot of every rom com shows that the filmmakers are very aware of the genre conventions and the film certainly knows when and where to go off the beaten track. The film is very well paced, mainly thanks to the efficiency of the film’s set-up. Gordon-Levitt never lingers too long on things, giving you everything you need to know and keeps things moving forward; he briskly moves you through the story without ever making you miss a beat. The comedy is well written and down-to-earth, and the film also manages to pack an emotional punch when it needs to. But in other areas, it is clear that Gordon-Levitt is still learning the ropes. The film gets itself into a very repetitive rhythm, repeating certain shots and types of scenes; by a certain point, you can almost predict how one scene leads into another. Sure, I can get what they were going for and it makes more sense by the end, but it did start to grate on me by the seventh bloody time this guy goes to church. And, whilst I did find the conclusion to be satisfying, I don’t think the ending is as original as they think it is. But all in all, this is for the most part a well-crafted picture with plenty of drama and laughter.
With the man wearing three hats here, you’d think Gordon-Levitt’s acting would take a hit. Nope. He’s as great as ever. The character of Jon is a change of pace for the man; a character that isn’t quite as pleasant or as intelligent as roles he has played before. But he remains convincing throughout, making you sympathize with his situation but also wanting him to develop and get past his issues. Johansson is also wonderful here, portraying perfectly that kind of woman who can play a man like a fiddle without either of them realising it. Moore is as good as she always is, though I feel she isn’t stretching as far away from her usual persona as everyone else is. Danza and Glenne Headly are brilliant as Jon’s parents, making the concept of the bickering couple seem fresh again. The only casting choice that had me somewhat puzzled was Brie Larson as Jon’s sister. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the part or Larson as an actress; I just found it odd that they cast a recognisable face like hers in a part that requires her to do almost nothing for most of the movie. She’s like a female Silent Bob, and honestly anyone could have played her.
In technical terms, Don Jon doesn’t do anything astounding but it’s not that kind of movie. There is some simple but good cinematography on display here, and some nice lighting touches such as the way Johansson’s character is always lit in glowing light no matter how dark the environment is. The soundtrack is well done too; it’s cheesy at points, but I think that was the point.
Don Jon isn’t just a good effort from a first-time director. It’s a pretty good film on its own too. It’s funny, it’s engaging, it makes some good analysis on the conventions of the romantic comedy and it twists them around to fit a more real world. It’s certainly not perfect, but for a first effort it is pretty astounding. With more time and practice to hone his skills, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the potential to be up there with the high echelon of actors-turned-directors.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10