[AC, N, SC, SL]
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke & Paul Ben-Victor; cameos by Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Meagan Good & Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director/Screenwriter: Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Producer: Ram Bergman; Director Of Photography: Thomas Kloss; Production Designer: Meghan C. Rogers; Editor: Lauren Zuckerman; Costume Designer: Leah Katznelson; Music Composer: Nathan Johnson
In the alien realm known as New Jersey, life is good for young Jon Martello Jr. aka “Don Jon” (Gordon-Levitt): family, church, working out, his pad, clubbing with his boys Bobby (Brown) & Danny (Luke); sweating up the sheets with a revolving door of sexy chicks—and most of all, indulging in internet porn for some masturbatory enlightenment.
One fateful club night, Jon meets the sexy Barbara (Johansson)—who isn’t falling for Jon’s charms. Bemused and bewitched by this minx, Jon courts her in a very non-“Don Jon” manner, as follows: romantic meals with wine, flowers & candles; watching chick flicks together; meeting Jon’s family: football fanatic papa Jon Sr. (Danza), practical mama Angela (Headley) and insightful younger sister Monica (Larson); attending college courses so that Jon can improve his career pathway; and most importantly: NO INTERNET PORN!
To the delight of his family (who like Barbara) and the detriment of his boys, Jon does his best to be the man that Barbara wants him to be. He even helps out a troubled older woman/classmate, Esther (Moore), who catches him watching porn on his phone—and doesn’t judge. Barbara catches him watching porn again (and again) and promptly leaves him.
Jon tries to go back to his pre-Barbara days by hanging with the boys and hitting on girls—but something has changed. One night, after class, he and Esther have sex in her car. It is only later, at her place—does Jon learn about Esther’s pain: her family was killed in a car accident a year ago…and now she must put her life back together.
Jon eventually comes to realize that he likes being with Esther as their friendship grows into something more meaningful. He meets up with Barbara one last time—and she unconsciously confirms that she is not right for him. It is the same sentiment that Monica tells Jon, as she is the insightful Martello. Jon is now happy in his new life with Esther, a sexy broad herself.
Watching actor/writer/director Joseph Gordon Levitt’s amusing DON JON reminds me of my own wayward Jersey youth of the late ‘80s & early ‘90s. It makes me miss my Cavariccis, overly-gelled hairdo, techno music, 3:00AM White Castle runs, Manhattan clubs like Limelight, Bacchus & Webster Hall and that bittersweet odor of Hai Karate cologne (yes…even I wore it). Ahh, those were the days of high adventure…
Back then, Jersey dudes were real dudes. We wore our shirts—and our politically-incorrect attitudes—as exposed as Tony Montana’s chest hairs. Chicks had high hair (at least 3 feet high and risin’) and didn’t use Krav Maga to put us in the emergency room if we tried to get some. MTV’s Jersey Shore? Fuhgeddaboudit…me and my boys did it first! Now comes along DON JON to remind me of what is loooooong gone. Sigh. I think I’ll just sit in the corner in my over-40 stupor and ponder hara-kiri with a butter knife while I post it on YouTube.
[Getta here!! I’m still young, still Jersey and still friggin’ studly! But I digress to this review…]
Kudos are in order for actor/writer/director JGL—who, in his feature-filmmaking debut, presents a fresh, amusing and heartfelt story with absolute zero pretense in the presentation and execution. While the screenplay and its structure are not perfect, it does imbue the energy of a young stud who finally meets his match. That it takes a sharp turn into sentimentality (and thus revealing a heart under all of the Jersey posturing) is part of DON JON’s organic fabric.
Acting-wise, JGL sells it—up to a point. Remember, I’m a Jersey guy… so to be represented on screen by a (talented) actor from Southern California can give one cause for pause. BUT…for the most part, JGL does a fine job emulating some of the mooks I grew up with. Better still (and I’m sure JGL would vaunt this) is his supporting cast members, with Moore & Danza getting top props.
Even big stars like Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Meagan Good & Cuba Gooding Jr. show up in amusing cameos in the chick flicks within this flick. By the way: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that talents (and beauty) of Miss Scarlett Johansson in the Girl Friday role—specifically written by JGL for her. Man, I’m in love…
Production values for this $6 million production (boxofficemojo.com) are solid across the board. It was filmed in Hackensack, NJ and Los Angeles, CA. And yes, I did recognize some of the Jersey locations as places I have been to.
DON JON was shot on Super 35mm film (actual film!) by veteran Austrian cinematographer Thomas Kloss (Pontiac Moon, Showtime, 2011’s Conan The Barbarian)—whose widescreen lensing accentuates interpersonal relationships quite nicely. Throw in some thoughtful cutting by veteran editor Lauren Zuckerman (S.F.W., The Deep End, Bee Season), Jersey-appropriate production design by Meghan C. Rogers (Thunderstruck, 2014’s The Signal) and Jersey-appropriate costuming by Leah Katznelson (The Sitter, 21 Jump Street, Enough Said)—and it all meshes.
If I had anything negative to say about DON JON, it would be that the story is a tad over-simplistic and the film’s denouement—while charming and heartfelt—does not fit Jon’s characterization at heart… i.e., once a Jersey hound, always a Jersey hound. I should know… I am one!! Still, this movie is delightful and well-produced.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fuhgeddaboudit…DON JON is a terrific directorial debut for actor/screenwriter Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Amusing, adorable, crass (in our Joisey kinda way)—yet surprisingly touching in all the right places—this one’s a winner. The cast, buoyed by a naturalistic (more than realistic) screenplay, is top-notch as well. This movie makes me want to whip out my Cavaricci pants & Hai Karate cologne and hit Da Shore… just like I used to way back when! Hey, fuhgeddaboudit!!
Official Site: http://donjonmovie.tumblr.com