Movie Reviews
3:59 pm
Fri September 27, 2013

'Don Jon': Smooth Move There, Mr. Gordon-Levitt

Originally published on Fri September 27, 2013 4:17 pm

Once a child actor on TV, then an indie sensation, then an honest-to-God movie star going head-to-head with the likes of Bruce Willis in Looper and Leo DiCaprio in Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt hardly needs to burnish his LinkedIn resume at this point. But that's not kept him from adding a couple of skills — writing and directing — with his latest picture.

In the romantic comedy Don Jon, about a modern-day Lothario at large in New Jersey — he plays Jon Martello, a guy who'd be the first to tell you he has life all figured out. Which should probably tell you something else: He's not a deep thinker.

In voice-over at the top of the movie, Jon lists the things he really cares about: his body, his apartment, his Camaro, his family, his church, his pals, his gals, and his porn.

That last, let's note, is not an admission that strikes Jon as particularly odd. His New Jersey buddies have nicknamed him Don Jon, because he's a real Don Juan with the ladies — a fresh conquest every night, lots to confess at confession.

But after sex, he's kinda done with the encounter, while his conquests generally want to cuddle. And though he pays lip service to the notion that he might want that too, should the right girl ever come along, all that pornography offers sex without cuddling. Which truth be told, he prefers.

Then, the right girl does in fact come along: Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who's blond, stacked, altogether babealicious — a perfect 10 in the eyes of his buddies, and to Jon's consternation, as adept at playing the seduction game as he is.

Barbara won't go to bed with him after one date, or even after one month. She insists on meeting his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headley, both hilarious), and gets him to take night classes so he can better his bartending job. And to his horror, she wants him to do couples stuff, like going to romantic movies (Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway, riotously coupled in a quick chick-flick parody).

But Jon, of course, likes a different sort of movie, and once he's finally sealed the deal, and he and Barbara are more or less living together, he returns to old habits — whereupon she catches him surfing the Web for porn.

These two are playing at adult relationships, but they're not terribly grown-up, and that, it turns out, is central to what Gordon-Levitt the filmmaker wants to explore here.

And he's clearly been paying attention to more than his own lines as he's transitioned from TV to indie dramas to big-studio blockbusters. Don Jon qualifies as an authoritative writing and directing debut — smooth, funny and with a terrific cast — not just Johansson vamping in that thick New Jersey accent, but Headley and Danza, Brie Larson as a little sister who barely looks up from her cellphone but somehow takes in everything, and Julianne Moore, fragile and slyly funny as the one thoughtful adult among all these cartoonish types.

Gordon-Levitt keeps things riotous for the film's first hour, and if he eases into an ending that's a little Hollywood-standard, after having so much fun tweaking form and content, I'm guessing audiences will cut him some slack. Just as Don Jon is learning the ropes, after all, so is the guy who dreamed him up.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown from a child actor on TV's "Third Rock From The Sun" to a movie star in "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Inception." And now, he's adding a few new skills to his resume. He not only stars in the new comedy "Don Jon," he also wrote and directed the film. Critic Bob Mondello says Gordon-Levitt did both as if he'd been doing them all his life.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Jon Martello would be the first to tell you he has life all figured out, which should probably tell you something else. He is not a deep thinker.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) There's only a few things I really care about in life: my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn.

MONDELLO: Yup, you heard that right, his porn. Jon's New Jersey buddies have nicknamed him Don Jon because he's a real Don Juan with the ladies - a fresh conquest every night, lots to confess at confession. But after sex, he's kind of done while his conquests generally want to cuddle. And he figures, maybe when the right girl comes along. But in the meantime, pornography offers sex without cuddling, which, truth be told, he prefers. Then the right girl comes along.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Why did you say yes to me?

SCARLETT JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) You're just going to have to wait to find out.

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) All right. I got time.

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) You're cute. I like you.

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Oh, yeah?

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) Yeah.

MONDELLO: She's perfect and knows it, as embodied by Scarlett Johannson. And she plays the seduction game as well as Jon does.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) Don't lie to me.

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Hey.

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) Look, you don't know me, so I'm going to let you off the hook this time. But trust me, in the future, you'll be much happier if you always tell me the truth.

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Wait, wait, wait. I'll be happier?

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) What, you don't think I can make you happy if I wanted to?

MONDELLO: Barbara will not go to bed with him after one date or even after one month. She insists on meeting his parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) Oh, thank you. It's so nice to finally meet you both.

TONY DANZA: (as Jon Martello Sr.) My pleasure. My pleasure.

MONDELLO: And to his horror, she wants him to do couples stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) You like movies?

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) I don't watch too many movies. The pretty woman, the pretty man, and they drive off into the sunset. Everyone knows it's fake.

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) I love movies like that, you know?

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Yeah. That's great. But they watch it like it's real life.

MONDELLO: Jon, of course, likes a different sort of movie. And once he's finally sealed the deal, and he and Barbara are more or less living together...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) Baby.

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) What are you doing?

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) I was just reading emails.

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) No, you weren't.

MONDELLO: ...he returns to old habits.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DON JON")

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) How do you watch that?

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) How do you watch all the stupid movies that you watch?

JOHANNSON: (as Barbara Sugarman) Movies and porno are different, Jon. They give awards for movies.

GORDON-LEVITT: (as Jon Martello Jr.) They give awards for porn too.

MONDELLO: These two are playing at adult relationships, but they're not terribly grown up. And that, it turns out, is what Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to explore in "Don Jon." He has clearly been paying attention to more than his own lines as he's transitioned from TV to indie dramas to big-studio blockbusters. "Don Jon" qualifies as an authoritative writing and directing debut: smooth, funny, and with a terrific cast. Not just Johannson vamping in that thick Jersey accent, but Glenne Headly and Tony Danza as the parents Jon dreads bringing her home to, Brie Larson as a little sister who barely looks up from her cellphone but somehow takes in everything, and Julianne Moore, fragile and slyly funny as the one thoughtful adult among all these cartoonish types.

Gordon-Levitt keeps things riotous for the film's first hour, and if he eases into an ending that's a little Hollywood-standard after having so much fun tweaking form and content, I'm guessing audiences will cut him some slack. Just as "Don Jon" is learning the ropes after all, so is the guy who dreamed him up.

I'm Bob Mondello.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.