'Don Jon' review: Honest, funny sex comedy

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in a scene Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from "Don Jon." Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

PLOT: A confident ladies' man struggles with an addiction to pornography. Rated R (nudity, strong language, adult themes)

BOTTOM LINE: A sex comedy with rare honesty, intelligence and insight from new auteur Gordon-Levitt. Fresh, funny and full of sneak-attack charm.

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

LENGTH: 1:30

"I don't gotta say anything, I don't gotta do anything," says Jon Martello, the porn-addicted hero of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon." That's his general explanation, but you'll have to see the movie to hear the down-and-dirty specifics. Rarely has a film offered such raw and honest talk -- with visuals, too -- about male sexuality.

"Don Jon" is the writing and directing debut of its star, 32-year-old Gordon-Levitt, and it's a fresh, funny, thoroughly off-color and winningly off-the-wall film. It might seem surprising from a guy whose credits include "The Dark Knight Rises" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," but fans have long suspected that his heart belonged to small-scale labors of love like "Brick" and "50/50." His movie is tough to categorize -- a sensitive sex comedy with glimmers of the downbeat classic "Carnal Knowledge"? -- and that's exactly what makes it such an unexpected treat.

Initially, "Don Jon" promises only the broadest humor. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon as an Italian-American stereotype with a gold chain, hard-won musculature and a none-too-convincing New Jersey accent. Jon's regular routine -- hit the club, hang with the boys (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke), take home something in high heels -- screeches to a halt when he meets Barbara Sugarman. A gum-snapping Catholic princess played by a ferociously funny Scarlett Johansson, Barbara has the audacity to demand commitment in return for her favors. To everyone's surprise, Jon agrees.

He loves her, and so do his impossible parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly, in full-blown "All in the Family" mode). One problem: Jon remains so addicted to online pornography that he's at his laptop nearly 10 times a day. (His Pavlovian response to the MacBook start-up chord is a running gag, and rather permissive product placement by Apple.) Barbara is disgusted but Jon can't stop, and their relationship begins to fray.

A different filmmaker might have taken this story in any number of predictable directions. But Gordon-Levitt's deceptively simple characters keep surprising us, revealing new sides of themselves until a more interesting and complicated picture emerges. There's also a welcome X factor in Esther (Julianne Moore), an unhinged but very perceptive woman who throws Jon, and us, delightfully off-balance.

None of this should work, but -- aside from that accent -- it does. It's a special movie from a familiar face who just might have a whole new career.


PLOT A confident ladies' man struggles with an addiction to pornography.

RATING R (nudity, strong language, adult themes)

CAST Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

LENGTH 1:30

BOTTOM LINE A sex comedy with rare honesty, intelligence and insight from new auteur Gordon-Levitt. Fresh, funny and full of sneak-attack charm.

--

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT DID IT HIMSELF

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"Don Jon," which opens Friday, marks the screenwriting and directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also stars as a Lothario with a porn addiction.

So, how did he feel about directing himself on screen? "There's no room for doubt," he says, adding that he did have his doubts in the writing process. "You know, those voices in your head: 'Maybe this isn't the one I should do. I don't know if I'm really good enough to do this, other people could do this better' -- you always have those feelings, those thoughts."

Gordon-Levitt showed the first draft of his script to Rian Johnson, his director on "Looper" and "Brick." "And when Rian said you really have something here, from that point forward I was resolved to leave my doubts aside and finish the thing."

He said he paid attention while working with directors Christopher Nolan on "Inception" and Steven Spielberg on "Lincoln." "The truth is that an actor's performance is not just made by the actor. So much of that performance has to do with the camera, the editing, the music, et cetera," he says. "And with 'Don Jon,' I was just envisioning all of those elements together while I was writing it and figured, I should direct this."

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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