Opens Fri., Sept. 27 at Varsity and other theaters. Rated R. 90 minutes.
If Joseph Gordon-Levitt has spent much of his grown-up career running away from the image of a sitcom child star, he couldn’t have devised a better way to cut the cord than this. He wrote, directed, and stars in Don Jon, the story of a porn addict who’d be right in place amongst the braying loudmouths of Jersey Shore. That Gordon-Levitt is still as likable as he was back in the days of Third Rock From the Sun—or the more recent 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer—goes a long way toward explaining why we stick with his obnoxious character here. The movie’s first twist is that although Jon is introduced to us an Internet porn addict, he’s no antisocial nerd: He’s got local fame as a ladies’ man, prowling the disco with his buddies and searching for a “dime” (a “10,” on the immortal scale) to take home on a Saturday night. Yet that success leaves him unsatisfied, so his laptop porn rituals are repetitively chronicled in near-NC-17 detail.
An encounter with the lushly named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, in a deft caricature) suggests that our boy may have found authentic love, but Gordon-Levitt throws in some reasonably fresh variations on the tale of an addict redeemed. One of them comes in the form of a night-school classmate (Julianne Moore) who’s got more honest life experience than most of the people in Jon’s circle. There’s also a terrific scene in a generic department store, as Jon describes his pleasure in cleaning his own house (if you haven’t guessed, he’s got control issues). The scene becomes a revelation about Barbara, as she leaves no doubt about her own insistence on control in this relationship.
Gordon-Levitt hasn’t gone completely sensitive-indie on us; his grasp of sitcom timing is abundant in family scenes. (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are a hoot as Jon’s trashy parents.) And his own body-sculpted performance is high on aggressive macho strutting. All this is in service of a very simple message, of the kind an earnest young filmmaker might feel is important to say for his generation. Which is maybe more endearing than insightful. Don Jon is a marshmallow heart wrapped in a spicy shell.