'Don Jon': Joseph Gordon-Levitt's direction scores with critics

As the title character in "Don Jon," Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a muscle-bound lothario with a knack for wooing women (and a secret addiction to Internet pornography). The film also marks Gordon-Levitt's feature debut as a writer and director, and in that role he's doing an admirable job charming film critics.

In The Times, Betsy Sharkey muses, "Who would have thought one of the most amusing and oddly insightful romantic comedies would be built around the power and the potent pull of porn?" Gordon-Levitt, she says, "has pulled off the subversive, seductive fun of 'Don Jon' in fine fashion."

The film, Sharkey writes, "is definitely smarter than your average R" and also benefits from solid performances by Scarlett Johansson (Jon's romance-obsessed love interest), Tony Danza (Jon's macho dad), Julianne Moore ("the film's X-factor") and Gordon-Levitt himself ("the anchor").

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The New York Times' Manohla Dargis similarly calls "Don Jon" a "deceptively sincere movie about masculinity and its discontents" as well as "a fine feature directing debut" for Gordon-Levitt. At times, Dargis says, "Mr. Gordon-Levitt almost smothers his intelligent movie in jokes, as with the repeated references to Jon's pad, his ride, his girls and boys, all of which register fairly soon as markers or even trophies of an obsessively cultivated narcissism." Ultimately, though, he manages to channel his ideas "into funny, eventually touching and dramatic terms."

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune finds "Don Jon" to be a "crafty debut" feature, one that demonstrates Gordon-Levitt "has ambition and little nerve." Phillips adds that "the entire film has been cast well" and that "behind the camera, Gordon-Levitt shows serious promise."

In the end, Phillips says, "'Don Jon' isn't saying anything new about the way popular media and the online maw objectify the living daylights out of women especially. But Gordon-Levitt makes this guy's journey to real adulthood an artfully cinematic breeze, explicit enough to be truthful, quick enough to keep it buoyant."

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Jake Coyle of the Associated Press says that while the character Jon's "relentless libido has a comic math to it," Gordon-Levitt's film "equals something quite substantial: a speedy little comedy about not just sex addiction but modern lives wasted on shallow gratification." Moore, in "one of her most suited roles," is key to the film. Until she arrives, "'Don Jon' is little more than a cartoon, albeit an entertaining one."

All said and done, Coyle says, "'Don Jon' is a lark, but an enjoyable one with a full-hearted finale, and it further reveals the considerable talents of Gordon-Levitt."

The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek calls "Don Jon" a "comedy that moves with a sense of purpose," and she agrees that "[Moore's] entrance is also the point at which Gordon-Levitt's characters shift from being obvious, intentional cartoons into people with feelings."

Meanwhile, Gordon-Levitt and the rest of the cast also keep up: "Even when his story starts getting serious, Gordon-Levitt always keeps it funny, and his cast is in on the joke."

Not every critic is taken with the film, however. The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern describes it as "an overheated disquisition on the pleasures and limitations of masturbation." The script is "shrewd enough," he continues, "but the ethnic tropes and accents are almost as cringe-worthy as Jon's repetitive liaisons with his laptop computer. … Enough gets to be enough long before the movie sets Jon on a journey that leads to … him finding mutuality in sex and love."


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