Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the writer, director and star of Don Jon, is a new breed of movie star. Like James Franco, he's a young Hollywood polymath who uses his high profile garnered from acting in multimillion dollar pictures to spearhead his own personal projects.
From 2005 he's creatively collaborated with thousands of users around the world with his online production company hitRECord, so it's no surprise to see him make his debut feature in Don Jon, about a man whose addiction to porn blights his love life. Updating the legendary Spanish lothario for the internet age, this fun and fresh take on the rom-com is blighted by its one-note story and one-dimensional characters.
Gordon-Levitt plays Don, a good-looking twenty-something stuck in menial work as a bartender. His leisure time is stubbornly structured around the gym, church, family, friends, women - but most of all porn. Don is obsessed with masturbating to various erotic materials on his laptop (and there is plenty of product placement) to the extent where even he admits that sex with a woman cannot provide the same gratification as the girls he sees on video.
Despite pornography often being accused of creating misogynist perceptions of woman and unrealistic expectations of sex, it's a topic surprisingly unexplored in modern cinema. Don's daily routine is frequently interrupted by flashes of rapidly edited explicit footage overlaid with hip-hop beats, and one of the film's best scenes sees Don go on a dinner date only for the romantic moments between the two to be punctuated with pornographic images.
These stylistic flourishes excellently depict Don's furious consumption of today's machine-gun media, the fast and immediate imagery indicating the short attention spans and quick desire for gratification that modern audiences require. This cycle is broken when Don falls head over heels for blonde bombshell Barbara Sugarman (Scarlet Johansson), a woman with polar opposite beliefs in love and sex. As much influenced by schmaltzy Hollywood romance stories as Don is by explicit porn, she's the old-fashioned sort who believes in romantic dates and getting to know another person before getting intimate with them.
We're meant to see both Don and Barbara as two people whose ideas of the opposite sex are shaped by the media they consume, the overly romanticised movies of the past and the hyper-sexualied media of today, but the movie really feels like an extended TV sitcom, chock-full of caricatures over characters, as well as artificial and repetitive scenes.
Don's over-the-top Italian-American accent, wifebeater outfit, and attitudes towards women mean he's a character riddled with lazy stereotypes. Barbara's loud and brash New Yorker spends more time pouting and chewing gum than talking, providing us with little more than eye candy. Julianne Moore is a breath of fresh air towards the end but her pot-smoking, middle-aged Esther arrives too late to break the monotony.
For the film is formulaic just like old-fashioned TV sitcoms. Its plot is predictable and each scene, each exchange, each moment, openly bares its construction. The relationship between the two main characters charts a predictable course as they go through the motions of first meeting friends, then family; the initial love/lust dissipating into hackneyed domestic rows. Like the porn Don consumes, this is a film that's fun whilst it lasts but is quickly forgotten.
Don Jon is released in cinemas nationwide from 15 November