Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Cinema File #289: "Don Jon" Review

Sorry movie, when the best thing in you is Tony Danza in a sleeveless shirt, you have to know you've got some problems.

I never got the chance to review last years science fiction blockbuster Looper when it came out in theaters, since it was a few months before I started reviewing movies on a regular basis. Suffice it to say, I was among the stark minority of sci-fi fans who was unimpressed. Well, actually, I was very impressed - with the first half, but once the narrative jumped from the city to a boring ass farm with an even more boring ass telekinetic kid, I felt like a lot of potential was wasted, as if a great time travel movie without an ending and a terrible Carrie rip off without a first act were haphazardly jammed together. Nonetheless, the public at large loved it, providing the long awaited breakout role for its star Joseph Gordon Levitt. Now a household name following the equally lackluster but successful Dark Knight Rises, Levitt brings us his writing and directing debut with Don Jon, and like many examples of his recent acting work, it weirdly fails miserably to live up to his obvious talent.

Don Jon follows the titular Jersey douche through a series of romantic and sexual adventures as he learns just how shallow and empty his body image obsessed, porn fueled life has become. The trailer for this movie struck me at the time as some of the worst marketing for a film that I had ever seen, promising a story about little more than a guy who loves working out and watching porn. Turns out, the marketing was regrettably spot on, its just the movie that fails to live up to expectations. Jon comes across like the other friend we never saw from Pain And Gain who didn't go off on the wacky murder adventure, because he was too busy doing the same stupid shit every night to ever do anything remotely interesting or exciting. Broad stereotypical characters fill his world, none more two dimensional than the Don himself, which is only made worse when the movie tries and utterly fails to say something important about the kind of life he leads.

Porn addiction, and more broadly the way in which ubiquitous Internet porn has left a generation of young men ill-equipped to deal with real sex with real women, is an issue that lends itself well to dramatic examination. Its an important cultural problem that's rarely discussed or analyzed in fiction, and the lack of seriousness and depth with which Don Jon deals with it is both sad and kind of strange considering how much of a focus is placed on it. The silly tone Don Jon forces upon the audience so bluntly is just not right for the subject matter. This movie needed to be more Shame and less Jersey Shore, more willing to go to the dark places that sexual obsession leads to, and less willing to descend into comic buffoonery. I just can't take any of this seriously, even when the movie so desperately wants me to. Its as if it is trying to ease me into a serious topic with all the fluff, but it forgets to actually make the point it was trying to make.

Jon feels like a character from an Adam Sandler movie who somehow got lost and found himself in another film altogether, where the rules that once justified his stupidity no longer apply, and his faults are obvious and unavoidable. The entire movie is just one slow drag to this idiot learning this completely self-evident lesson that anyone with even an ounce of introspection wouldn't need to learn at all, let alone with so much heartbreak involved. The only reason he's momentarily protected from learning the truth about himself is because everyone around him appears to be just as stupid as he is, save for one voice of reason who comes across as the only one real enough to actually belong in this world of misplaced cartoon characters. The structure of seeing his routine unravel, first for the worse, and then finally for the better, is only a reminder of just how monotonous and endlessly frustrating this movie is.

A bad movie is one thing, but a bad movie that could have been and should have been so much better is quite another. When proven talent is involved with a project that is designed to address a vital concern in a clever, interesting, and thought provoking way, to see it all fall apart and stumble together into something like Don Jon is practically a tragedy. Its not enough that I can't enjoy it, but I keep thinking of the movie I could have been watching, and how this smirking goon robbed me of it because making time for the Markie Mark sing-along was so much more important than actually addressing anything meaningful. My fear is that the obtuse Don Jon is crafted to be relatable to the kinds of young dumb males Levitt is trying to persuade with his unsubtle polemic against one-sided lust, and I don't want to believe they exist in such large numbers as to make this necessary. At any rate, the caricature ruins whatever goodwill attempt was being made to sway them.

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