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Karen Datangel is a communications specialist, writer, connector, sports enthusiast (Go SF Giants, 49ers, and Warriors), and philanthropy-minded extroverted introvert. Born, bred, and based in the Bay Area, Karen graduated with a degree in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Her writing/media resume includes contributions to and internships with Hollywood Life, CAAMFest (Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival), Audrey Magazine (Now part of Character Media), Bustle, Fandom, SheKnows, and POPSUGAR. She now focuses mostly on social media and communications in various industries, currently working as the Public Relations Assistant with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and having worked previously at Salesforce and Google. Outside of work, she is an active member of the Spinsters of San Francisco.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Don Jon’ is a Bold, Enticing, and Unexpected First Feature

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a triple threat in his screenwriting/directorial debut ‘Don Jon,’ which he also stars in (photo credit: Relativity Media).

The legend of the womanizing Don Juan has been told in many ways throughout the course of time, but art has never presented him as a modern-day, online porn-addicted Italian Catholic guy from Jersey—till Joseph Gordon-Levitt brought him to life. The thespian makes his first feature film foray into directing and screenwriting with the unconventional romantic comedy Don Jon, where he also stars as the tough-talking, hard-partying, lady-loving title character. While the uproarious and raunchy trailer presents the film as a little straight-forward (What most people will likely take away from it: Girlfriend gets mad at guy for watching and enjoying his porn, therefore causing a rift in their relationship), there’s much more to it than what it seems. Perception in itself and the ways in which people see and believe are driving forces in this surprisingly layered film.  In his solid behind-the-camera and behind-the-script debut, Gordon-Levitt delivers incredible messages about relationships, intimacy, and the everyday media that consumes our lives and affects the ways we live our realities everyday.

Don Jon is an ambitious and enthralling combination of unapologetic Jersey Shore ridiculousness, semi-quirky Silver Linings Playbook melodrama of the internal, familial, and relationship kinds, and the unflinching depiction of a taboo addiction a la Shame. But it’s still a film that goes beyond its influences and brings a unique flavor to the cinematic offerings of recent years. It’s definitely not as mindless as Jersey Shore and not as heavy as Silver Linings Playbook or Shame. Large traces of them make their way through this film but Don Jon has Gordon-Levitt and his castmates’ hearts, souls, and guts all over it.

A narrative of routine and how it can suddenly change is part of what makes this film work. There’s an amusing sense of predictability throughout as the audience follows Jon (Gordon-Levitt) going about his daily business. The sound that his computer makes once he logs into his site of choice, the curse words he’ll use as he’s stuck in daily traffic, the “10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys” response from the priest: you expect all of that to come up again and again after the second time, and the frequencies are quite funny. Through this repetition, we truly get to know him—maybe even see a little bit of ourselves in his everyday life, although our everyday lives are likely much more mundane. Jon goes to church and confession every Sunday, visits his parents (Played by Glenne Headly and Tony Danza) and sister (Brie Larson) for family dinner, maintains his bachelor pad, hits the gym while repenting the sins confessed that week, and goes to the club with his bros. One side of his life with women is revealed when he goes to the club: He can ooze the charm and sex appeal to pull all the ’10s.’ That’s another way of saying he can get any woman he wants to go home with him. But those gifts plus the sex that comes with them aren’t enough for Jon, so we are then introduced to the other side of his life with women: his obsession with online porn. He doesn’t have any outside communication with these women, but the fantasies they have planted become his expectations of reality.  But since real sex isn’t like sex in porn, he prefers to get off on the fantasies. However, when he meets a sassy buxom blonde named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) one night, he is forced to track her down via Facebook to see her again. Unlike the other girls Jon meets, Barbara doesn’t put out easily but she still exemplifies one of his preconceived notions about females: that they get lost in believing the true love they see in Hollywood movies.

Barbara evidently becomes a bigger part of Jon’s life as she partakes in all his daily activities with him and meets his family, much to the delight of his overeager mother (Who wishes to see him married with children soon) and his father (Captivated by the younger woman’s beauty). However, she becomes extremely upset upon discovering Jon’s love for porn and the two blow up over their differences and misunderstandings. So, maybe the routine hasn’t really changed after all. But wait, perhaps it did in another way? Later in the film, it is revealed that Jon is taking a college course and catches a classmate—an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore)—crying. The awkward encounter brings the two together in the days ahead and eventually, Jon comes to find that Esther is hiding some secrets of her own.

That goes back to that saying that everything isn’t what it seems. In one way, Gordon-Levitt is in-your-face in the approach towards creating Don Jon, with the very racy sex scenes, pornographic cuts, and harsh language. But his character embarks on a great discovery of self and the people around him and although the development of key relationships should’ve been mulled over more, the film is substantial. It challenges the ideals of sexuality and what it means to love someone. Yes, Don Jon may be a motion picture too, but it’s far more real than Jon’s porn and Barbara’s romantic movies. It’s a smartly-crafted feature that you will not only keep your eyes and ears on, but think about how you view the concept of attraction, feelings towards others, and how this movie and others influence your actual thoughts. It’s a little bit of a media satire in itself, which may be what the innovative Gordon-Levitt was going for.

Gordon-Levitt’s performance as the macho title character is good, but not as impressive as past roles. His accomplishments lie in his terrific directing and witty and humorous screenwriting. Johansson is cast perfectly as Gordon-Levitt’s beautiful but difficult other half and lives up to the part. The role seemed to call for what may epitomize the term “sexy” in today’s society—blonde, voluptuous, alluring—and Johansson only had to play herself with a heavy Jersey accent and with the understanding that Barbara isn’t very understanding. Moore, the second female lead and the film’s best performer, is subtle yet heartbreaking as the quiet but troubled Esther.

Fun, clever, and thought-provoking, Don Jon is sure to spark conversation and reflection amongst anyone who ever wished their lives were more like the movies. As one of the taglines states, “Everyone loves a happy ending.” Both in reality and in the film, you might not get the happy ending you have been fantasizing about. Maybe you’ll get one that’s different—and better.

I thought that some of the acting and story development lacked a bit ‘ooomph’ for me to rate it higher, but the overall story and script and the element of surprise has me applauding this effort. I think the 20 to 30 crowd will especially appreciate ‘Don Jon.’ While it’s all about being young and having fun, those are the widely considered years where people find out who they are, in the same way Jon does in this film. People will be able to connect it with their own lives in their own quirky ways.  ‘Don Jon’ is a very good directorial and screenwriting debut by Gordon-Levitt and I think it will propel him towards more feature film projects in the future.

Check out the trailer for ‘Don Jon’ below and come see it in theaters starting this weekend!

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