I must be extremely careful while reviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hilariously insightful, relentlessly ribald, refreshingly unpredictable, late coming-of-age comedy "Don Jon."
The main character, Jon Martello, worships computer porn. As a result, this movie comes crammed with photos and footage of women and men, mostly the former, replicating hard-core pornographic scenarios.
"Don Jon"★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Luke
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Other: A Relativity Media release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity, sexual situations. 90 minutes
So you see my dilemma.
Mainstream press propriety propels me to tread lightly on this subject. I can't even mention the movie's tagline on its posters, because it contains a bawdy double-entendre denoting a pornographic act.
So please bare with me as ... Argh! I mean bear ... (this is already not going well) as I negotiate a minefield of opportunities to offend readers and end a long career.
Let's begin with Gordon-Levitt, one of the busiest and best actors working in movies. As you might guess, actors-turned-directors tend to play it safe by focusing their debuts on what they know: actors.
Gordon-Levitt's smart and spicy original screenplay makes "Don Jon" all about its plot and characters. Then, he still makes it about his actors, all of whom are stand out and stellar in their roles.
He complements his cast by pumping up the visuals with flash and panache, aided by Thomas Kloss' vibrant cinematography and Lauren Zuckerman's zippy editing.
Gordon-Levitt also plays the title character with bad boy irresistibility and buffed bravado. He constantly works out. He greases his hair. And he narrates the entire movie. (Think of this as a dirtier, New Jersey version of a Woody Allen romantic comedy.)
Jon blissfully picks up ultrahot women at Jersey clubs with his two wingmen (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke), so impressed with his win record that they dub him "Don Jon."
His big hang-up? Jon prefers porn to having sex with his club conquests.
He confesses to us, "I lose myself" with computer porn, something that doesn't happen with real women.
Then he meets her.
Jon spots Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) across a crowded room. She's liquid estrogen poured into a red dress. Her voice is sonic Cialis. She moves like a succubus.
Unlike the other girls, Barbara Sugarman doesn't go all the way. She's a traditional woman who wants to be wooed and wowed.
Poor Don Jon is Un Done.
He could be in love for the first time, a proposition that delights his traditional Catholic mother (Glenne Headly) and foul-mouthed Catholic father (a super-buff Tony Danza, who looks genetically connected to Gordon-Levitt). His ever-silent sister (the brilliantly underplayed Brie Larson) says nothing, and says it uproariously.
But is Barbara Jon's soul mate? Like everything else in "Don Jon," the perfect romance comes at a price.
"Don Jon" is one tough motion picture to pull off. One misstep in tone or content could turn off audiences, but Gordon-Levitt pushes the cinematic envelope with charm and near-perfect aplomb.
His cautionary tale shows what happens when men (some anyway) objectify women to the point that real relationships and feelings can't compete with the instant, constant, consequenceless, all-consuming charge that computer porn offers its army of addicts.
Jon's appetite for one-sided sexual gratification grows so strong, he no longer can empathize with women. Take the time he leaves his college class and sees an older student (Julianne Moore) crying.
He seems really miffed just trying to ignore her. He does not know, nor do we at the time, that a simple act of kindness will spur Moore's softly nuanced character into becoming his emotional redemption.
Weirdly enough, a hard-R rated movie about porn addiction (something that has rocketed with the Internet) preaches a humanistic message at exactly the time it needs to be heard.
Gordon-Levitt is no slouch when it comes to taking risks as a filmmaker. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Note: Watch for cute cameos by Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway as the stars of the fictional romance "Special Someone," the first movie Jon and Barbara go to see.
Whew! This review is done. I hope I'm not.