Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first foray into writing/directing is like a single red velvet cupcake: deep, rich, a little heavy, but just enough to satisfy. Don Jon pulls no punches in its expressionistic look at a man’s uncertain exploration of true intimacy. When I say expressionistic, here’s what I mean: the film uses lighting effects, motifs, montages, and other visual tools to delve into the experience of its hero, the lovable lothario Jon, who Levitt plays with panache and commitment.
Levitt is to be applauded here. His unique (decidedly non-realistic) approach to cinematic storytelling makes for a film that is both uproariously entertaining and profoundly significant.
It is clear that Don Jon is meant to be a statement piece. And state it does, in big bold-faced letters: the most fulfilling experiences do not exist in any presupposed social expectation/normality. The most fulfilling experiences are conflicted, complex, deeper than a single sense like sight or touch can communicate. Given that pretty heady central theme, the writing is actually accessible, simple yet whip smart. Levitt’s script speaks plainly to our loss of intimate connection in today’s tech-obsessed world, where reality is TV and people view everything through the lens of their camera-phone.
While the opening credits run along with a montage depicting the increasingly ridiculous sexualization (if it ain’t a word, it sure should be) of women in the media, the film doesn’t shy away from a male struggle in Western society either. Men are not without their own oppressions and unfair expectations, and the film meditates on both sexes. It is the central role of Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, and the dedication that Levitt shows them as director, that demonstrates this equality. (Watch out for a brilliant example of that gender equality in a scene between Levitt and Johansson in the third act!)
Don Jon isn’t about glorifying women or men. The message that Levitt delivers with utmost sincerity is not gendered at all: it is just human. At the end of the day, life isn’t intended for achieving perfection, status, an impossible idea. It’s just about making a connection.