Joseph Gordon-Levitt directs Don Jon.
Your mom calls you up, urging you to see the Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie about porn addiction. For your new blog, she says. You suspect you’ve hit rock bottom.
Relax, Jay McInerney, because it turns out that Don Jon is an extremely wholesome porn addiction comedy, the kind your mother could (and evidently does) love. Stocked full of vitamin rich Positive Attitudes Toward women, and low in nasty saturated-fat Laughs. Indeed, there is a sensitive, seventies vibe about the whole thing--you’d swear it arrives covered in sprouts, or remnants of that ancient human artifact, pubic hair.
This in spite of it’s contemporary, Jersey Shores milieu. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the bartending womanizer of the film’s title. (He also wrote and directed.) He has met the woman of his dreams (Scarlett Johansson) but they are both beginning to suspect his heart really belongs to internet porn. Into this troubled scenario arrives Julianne Moore as an emissary from another era, much like Jane Fonda in Coming Home. She will rehabilitate him, not from the Vietnam War, but from his porn-fueled compulsive self-stimulation. Reader, they make love.
In one of many jabs at conventional romantic comedy, it turns out that Barbara, the Scarlett Johansson character, is addicted to her own voracious fantasy life--a retro, coercive marriage track symbolized by her rapt consumption of the romantic films she drags him to-- films that bore him stiff, even as she finds his porn completely disgusting. These female fantasies are just as destructive of real-life happiness, Gordon-Levitt implies, as the more obvious objectification of porn. Considering the degradations I’ve suffered at the hands of rom-coms over the years, I can only, wearily, concur.
Gordon-Levitt has always been likeable, in movies like Inception and 500 Days of Summer, and I was rooting for him as he works to break out of side-kick status, to transform himself not just into leading man but auteur. He literally flexes his muscles, expands and hardens here in his role as an emotionally closed-off body builder. ( I really have no idea how he got those muscles.) And then he turns himself back again, into a sensitive listener, sans hair gel and in-your-face attitude. By the end of the film, he’s practically eating quiche.
In a lot of ways, Don Juan reminded me of another recent vehicle by an actor turned writer-director, Lake Bell’s In Another World, in which she shed her typecasting as a beautiful, demanding vixen in order to play a voice-over nerd in overalls. In both cases the premises seem kind of original, the messages worthy, but the laughs were pitiably few and far between. Even though the triple-hyphen credit (actor-writer-director) looks fabulous, and the multi-tasking undoubtedly saves money, these wunderkinder should maybe have sprung for a writer-writer, or at least some kind of joke technician.
Julianne Moore joins Joseph Gordon-Levitt in class .
Don Jon was redeemed for me, however, by the presence of Julianne Moore. Her character is, I suppose, as big a stereotype in its way as Gordon-Levitt’s macho Saturday Night Fever character or Scarlett Johansson’s poison sex-pot. She is middle-aged and unstable, also terribly chic, sexy, and beautiful. In short, she’s Julianne Moore. But I give Gordon-Levitt extra credit for this particular twist in the romantic comedy genre: it’s not often Scarlett Johansson gets rejected in favor of a stoned nutcase twenty-five years her senior.
Go ahead and call me a sucker for falling for Manic Pixie, Mrs. Robinson division. Do you think it bothers me? I’m already sitting here writing a movie blog for my immediate family. That reminds me, my sister said the last one was was way too long. Time to wrap things up.
Let’s do the time warp again soon. Love, Actually