16 October 2013

LFF 2013 Part I: Don Jon

The 2013 London Film Festival is almost over, but for me it's only just begun, as the three films for which I got tickets are all being shown this week.

First up was Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial début Don Jon. As he also wrote the film and stars as the, er, titular character, I was fairly hopeful that JGL would put in an appearance at the film's UK premiere in Leicester Square tonight, and sure enough, as I arrived just before six, having rushed from work, he was making his way across the red carpet.

The security folks asked us to wait while the real paparazzi did their thing, which meant I ended up with a fair few shots of the actor-director's rear (not bad!) before he finally turned around and we were allowed to go on in. My contributions towards the objectification of the male form may be of interest to those who felt the movie missed out on the opportunity to deal with the converse — the objectification of the female form.

LFF director Clare Stewart held a short Q&A session with Gordon-Levitt before the movie, although he didn't seem to be in the mood for a deep and meaningful discussion. But he was charming, witty and funny as he discussed the "loveable rogue" he plays and praised the BFI, complaining about the lack of similar government-funded film institutions in the US.

As for the film, it's a sort of bastardised hybrid of Don Juan and Jersey Shore. As Don Jon opens, we are treated to a high-octane montage of boobs and bums: in adverts, in music videos, on the red carpet. Everywhere. Then we meet Jon (Gordon-Levitt), our anti-hero and kingpin in his little New Jersey posse. His friends call him The Don (but of course). He doesn't like many things, he tells us; just his body, his car, his friends, his lady friends, his family, his church. Oh, and his porn. He's seriously addicted to online porn and even the little start-up noise his computer makes has the Pavlovian effect of turning him on. This doesn't stop him from going out with his friends and bringing home a different woman each night, but after she lies deep in a post-coital sleep, he sneaks away and fires up his computer. Each Sunday, he runs into his church, late for the service, and then confesses his sins of the week, waiting for the Hail Marys to be doled out (he later translates these into pull-ups and weight reps). Needless to say, Jon is a far cry from Cameron James in 10 Things I Hate About You.

He feels something is missing, though, and when he meets the glamorous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) in a club one night and she refuses to go home with him, he wonders whether building an actual relationship with a woman might help him get past his addiction. And initially, it seems to work. He and Barbara have fun and they fall in love. His parents (Glenne Headly and the hilarious Tony Danza) adore her too — well, lust after is probably more accurate than adore in the case of his father, who can barely contain his, er, praise for Barbara's, er, wits, as he and his son sit at the dinner table in their matching wife-beaters.

Although Barbara is demanding — her most problematic demand being that he stop watching porn — she also wants him to do better for himself than his job "in the service industry" and he starts taking an evening class, where he meets the troubled Esther (Julianne Moore). After catching Jon watching porn on his phone during class, she tries to befriend him, although at first he rebuffs her efforts.

But will Jon ever learn to stop watching porn and love real women or is he doomed to a lifetime of slow bandwidth and used tissues? Some may argue that Don Jon is a shallow film that has missed an opportunity to cover some really meaty issues, but that's OK. It's entertaining and funny, and sometimes even sweet. Jon is a douche but he is indeed a loveable rogue and you find yourself wishing him well, even when he acts like a tool or, at least, like a naughty puppy that doesn't know better. It really is the Gordon-Levitt show here, but there were some other good performances, and some nice uncredited cameos from people like Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway in the various clips from movies and adverts seen during the course of the film. Overall, then, not a bad directorial début.

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