Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don Jon - "Joseph Gordon-Levitt's O-Face: The Movie"

We interrupt this cheeky look at porn addiction to bring you this bit of shameless self-plugging.
After finally deciding to make good on some ideas from earlier this year, and tinkering with some Photoshop, I got a title accepted onto Better Book Titles (if you've never been to the site before, I'd recommend it even if my stuff didn't get posted- wonderfully insane retakes on books to more honestly reflect their contents)

http://betterbooktitles.com/post/62639652050/george-r-r-martin-a-storm-of-swords-reader -- Look upon my works ye mighty and...hopefully chuckle, I guess...

OK. Plug over, back to the porn! (...wait a minute...)

There's always something interesting about seeing someone's directorial debut. The effect of the film becomes two-fold, both in demonstrating the quality of the original film itself, as well as in showing what we can potentially expect from the new director in the future.

Which further added to the amount of pondering I had to go through after finishing up Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut. The resulting film is actually quite ambitious for a first time out, but not without some room for improvement.

The film concerns Jon 'Don' Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - nicknamed Don for his abilities with women. At the start of the film, Don explains his life pretty bluntly - he lives a fairly simple existence: his apartment, the gym, church, his friends, his family, girls, and, last but certainly not least - porn. In fact, Jon's fixation on porn is a pretty big part of his character - so much so that its colored a lot of his interactions and expectations in life - as he explains at points to the audience.

"I must...I must...I must increase my--
Wait a minute..."

Anyway, his simple, insular life is shaken up when he crosses paths with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson,) an ambitious woman with big plans for her future. Like Jon, her own expectations have been colored by outside sources - except for her it's romantic movies rather than porn. At first, the couple seems like your classic love story. Unfortunately, their separate expectations eventually lead to friction in their seemingly perfect relationship. As Jon and Barbara's relationship hits the rocks in a big way, he also crosses paths with Esther (Julianne Moore,) a lonely woman he meets at his night class. As he gets to know her, Jon soon finds out that her own experiences may provide him with more insights into his own life and problems than he had initially expected.

and thus, the Marvel-DC treaty of 2012 was officialized.
...OK, even I'll admit I went a bit out of the way for that one.

Admittedly, this story sounds somewhat simplistic on paper - which makes some sense given the way the film's narrative is being told, but also helps highlight one of the problems it has going for it. With regards to the former, this is thanks to the fact the movie's fairly introspective by design. It's all told from Jon's perspective, and the film stays with him the whole time. As a result of this, even when he's just left to his thoughts, we're still staying with him - many of said thoughts being relayed to us via voiceover narration provided by Jon. In fact, this is where we actually learn most about Jon, as his interactions with others are all largely surface level - his conversations with friends are all fixated on casual sex, and his family discussions are constantly framed by football. Prior to meeting with Esther, the only time Jon seems willing to bear any sort of internal thought to others is actually at confession in church - and even there he can only talk without getting much in the way of feedback. When he finally starts to open up to Esther, and actually sorting out the thoughts we've heard him try and sort out himself through his voice-overs, we see much more to the character.

Once we get past that Jersey accent, anyway...

As far as how this is problematic, well, that comes down to two things. The first is the fact that, depending how you feel about this, the first part of this movie can be VERY hard to sit through. Not because of the porn aspect mind you, but rather because Jon and everyone in his life are, to be perfectly honest, incredibly shallow New Jersey archetypes. Now, granted, this is partially by design - the two other characters who actually defy this archetype: Esther and Jon's sister (Brie Larson) are the two people in the film that actually seem to provide him with some worthwhile insight, and even seem to understand where he's coming from at points. So this one is understandable at least, though still one where mileage will vary depending how you feel on the character types - there seemed to be at least one person who left the theater I was at because of this. The other problem of the film's simplistic streak, and a bit more damning, is the fact the movie's message seems to become confused as it moves along. This is kind of a shame since there's actually several strands of interesting development being played with here: among them we have how pornography has skewed Jon's views of sexuality, how both Jon and Barbara have had their expectations of relationships so molded by outside stimuli, and, in an odd way, Jon's own sort of coming age as he slowly learns how to grow for his own sake rather than the pressures of others. These are all fascinating ideas to run with, but sadly, none of them really gets the focus needed to fully drive it home. Gordon-Levitt's script is promising, but feels like it could have benefited from a bit more polish in this regard.

...nope. Still not feeling this Who's the Boss? update.

To the film's credit, its unpolished story is the only really pronounced weak point going for it. For as one-dimensional as much of the characters are by design, the cast still aim to make the most of the roles. In particular, Gordon-Levitt and Johansson manage to add enough to their two leads that the fights between them actually have some teeth to them. Among Jon's daily grind, the other two standout performances may probably go to his parents - played by Tony Danza and Glenne Headley. Yeah, they're a part of the giant stereotype that is his life, but they both commit to the roles enough to keep them worth watching. Meanwhile, as the heart of the film, Moore gives the proceedings a good boost of emotional warmth that becomes necessary as the movie goes on. Finally, again, I have to give a nod to Larson - she spends much of the film being set up as something of a one-note joke, but when she finally gets the chance in the spotlight, the scene is well worth it.

Probably one of the areas where this film shows its best strength is in its editing. One of the creative calls Gordon-Levitt and editor Lauren Zuckerman use in conveying Jon's porn addiction is some fast-cut editing that makes the experience more than just a casual display of t&a, instead actually trying to visually convey the effect this genuinely has on Jon. It's a surprisingly effective technique, and one of the reasons the editing in this made as much of an impression on me as it did in the film's strengths. The fast edits are also employed to degrees at other scenes in the film as well, including a well-executed time-lapse sequence at one point, where the little details employed in the lapse make the scene even more interesting to watch. Some of the tricks have been around before, but the use of them here is still fairly bold, especially for a first-time effort.

In general, this movie is still one of the better films I've seen this year. It's certainly not perfect - the script and characterization are really quite rough in several places, but at the same time, there is a lot of potential to build from here. Further, I have to give Gordon-Levitt some points for the sheer ambition here. Even with this movie's shortcomings, I will still gladly admit, it's a pretty gutsy idea to shoot for - even moreso on your first attempt. Gordon-Levitt tries to say a lot here, and even if it doesn't all take, I still at least give him some commendations for trying to say it. If what this movie shows us is any indication, with a bit more focus, he could have the potential to become a genuinely great director sometime down the line. For now, even with all the bumps, I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.

Well, it took me a few extra days to sum this one up, but it was worth it.

This Friday.

No comments:

Post a Comment