The feature film directorial debut by writer and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon kicks off with an opening credit sequence in which the viewer is bombarded with titillating imagery intercut with bold titling; the message is very clear, and it’s one of intent: what you are about to see is as much a statement of ability as it is a work of gut-bustingly hilarious genre satire.
Knocking it out of the park from the opening voiceover, Gordon-Levitt is near unrecognisable in the titular role – a role that consumes him both physically and performance wise in a way that – in recent years – can only be compared with the likes of Mickey Rourke’s Randy Robinson or Heath Ledger’s Joker, a complete dissolution of the line between actor and character.
The supporting case as well fare rather well. Scarlett Johansson’s performance keeps her just far enough away from the realm of “token love interest” for it to believable, whilst Tony Danza puts in a frankly hilarious turn as the central character’s father; a role which could so easily have fallen into parody without just the right sort of balancing act.
It’s the script that’s the star here though, with Levitt’s work serving as the satirical sort of anti-romcom, this decade’s High Fidelity and a humorous parodic take on the likes of last year’s Shame. A surprisingly frank affair, the 18 rating is fairly justified; sexual taboos brought kicking and screaming into the cold light of day only to be greeted with a waiting one-liner. It’ll be off-putting to an older audience and mystifying to a younger one, but to an age-appropriate audience it hits the marks perfectly. It’s uncomfortable in its honesty, refreshing in its bluntness, hilarious in its candour.
As for being a directorial debut, the results are outstanding – a debut to rival Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (albeit worlds away in tone) with a terrific set of performances, an engaging story and a mean streak that keeps the comedy biting throughout. The third act does get a tad mired in the melodramatic side in the run up to its conclusion, but the film earns so much goodwill ahead of time that it’s an easy aspect to forgive. Imagine a Woody Allen movie for the YouTube generation and you won’t be far off the mark.
Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza