Generally, first-time writer-directors who began as actors fall into two categories: ones that seem accomplished from the get-go and ones that truly feel like first-time writer-directors. Ben Affleck, Zach Braff, and Robert Redford all managed to dazzle with their very first efforts, for example. Unfortunately, Don Jon is no Gone Baby Gone, Garden State, or Ordinary People.
The star of the movie, both in front of and behind the camera, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the former child star who’s now one of the hottest stars in Hollywood. After giving truly rich performances in movies like Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Inception, and 50/50, it’s unfortunate that his character in Don Jon just feels like a Jersey Shore parody – especially considering Gordon-Levitt was also Jon’s creator.
Jon is a caricature of an actual person, as are all of the movie’s two-dimensional characters. Everyone here exists merely to examine a different modern addiction. Jon’s girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) is addicted to unrealistic romantic-comedies, for example. His father (Tony Danza) is addicted to watching sports. His sister (an criminally unused Brie Larson) is addicted to texting.
Jon himself is addicted to Internet porn. Physical relations with women don’t satisfy him as purely as staring at virtual women does, where he has no expectations to meet and no one to think about except himself. It’s meant to be a provocative examination of modern males and an addiction previous generations never had to deal with. Instead, messages are bluntly beaten into the audience and the comedic levity never quite gels with the sad characters.
Don Jon is a good movie, but too often the plot, characters, editing, and dialogue just take the easy road. It’s reminiscent of George Clooney’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which wasn’t bad but was really just a warm-up for Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March. More than anything, Don Jon is a simply good movie that really just gets you excited about what Joseph Gordon-Levitt will direct next.