Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: Don Jon

Don Jon might be the first time I've ever reviewed a movie without being 100 percent certain of how good I think it is. I'm certain it's a bold and ambitious movie, with a lot to say, that only occasionally gets muddled in how much it's trying to get across and how completely reprehensible it's characters are. My final opinion on it might have to wait for a year end list, or perhaps a second viewing, but  I will say it's without a doubt worth seeing.

The plot is concerned with Jon (played by director Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a casual womanizer working a low end bartending job and is rather intently addicted to internet porn, as he finds sex unsatisfying (something he will go on about at length, as one of the film's primary gimmicks is an intensely introspective internal monologue from Jon). One day, while at the bar, he meets an incredibly hot girl (Scarlett Johansson) and begins to fall for her. Problematically, she is disgusted by internet porn and demands, amongst other things, that he give it up.

This sounds like a general 'Ladykiller in love' storyline, and for a solid chunk of the movie that seems like what it is for the first the half or so, or at least what it's riffing on. The main thing that keeps it from being one of those, aside from the turns the plot takes in the third act, is the way it treats it's characters. Almost all of the major characters, with the possible exception of 2 people (one of whom doesn't speak until the third act) are all irritating, idiotic, insufferable people. The movie, to it's credit, is clearly aware how terrible they are and treats them appropriately, but that doesn't make them any less infuriating, so just be prepared (pretty sure I saw someone leave partway through due to that).
Easily the most fascinating thing about this movie is the way it's directed, or at least the way it's edited. The rapid fire editing technique is usually used in action scenes (and makes things kind of incoherent) but here it's used to put us in the character's mindset and it never ceases to be entertaining. A lot of the camera shots are really uniquely used, especially closeups, mostly to enhance the aforementioned glimpses into the characters mindsets.

The script and actors are both on the good side. Levitt and Johansson both throw themselves rather admirably into their intensely dislikable characters (it's worth pointing out that Johansson has the accent down better for...some reason), and their interplay is highly entertaining, even as it's occasionally infuriating. Julianne Moore is also good in a smaller, but pivotol roll, that I really don't want to spoil. Although I must say, my favorite character has to be Brie Larson's (that's funnier when you've seen the movie).

It's interesting to me to note that the script, which is well written and fairly unique, is also one of the film's biggest problems. Simply put, the movie is trying to do too much. It's got commentary the similarities between porn and generic rom-coms, the nature of relationships, how porn warps our idea of sex and even the give and take in relationships. It's a lot, and I mean a lot, for a movie to get across in a short amount of time, and it occasionally gets muddled. The characters occasional drift into being outright cartoon characters, especially towards the beginning and some of the visual metaphors can be painfully on the nose.

I'm still not convinced Don Jon is a great movie. It's an interesting one, offbeat and fascinating to watch and a great first effort from Joseph Gordon Levitt. It's highly flawed though and the nature of it's characters means it can sometimes be a bit of a chore to watch. Still, a movie doesn't have to be perfect to be a good movie, and while it may not be great, Don Jon is at least pretty good, and certainly worth your time. Perhaps if I see it again I'll report back, but until then, see you next time.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders how many people are gonna be surprised by how this movie ends.

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