Thursday week this summer and for however long we feel like it, Jim and I will review and discuss a movie (or documentary) – SANS SPOILERS, so you can read even if you haven’t seen it yet – currently available for streaming on one or many of the popular services– Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Vimeo. Think of it as a summer movie club for men… that might last longer than just the summer and isn’t exclusive to men. Today, Don Jon, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut in a movie about basically The Situation being obsessed with porn and then falling in love with Scarlett Johansson who has a problem with his porn problem and, bonus!, Julianne Moore again. It’s not a rom-com and features a lot of JG-L flexing and masturbating. Just what you always wanted!
Don Jon – 2013, Netflix, Amazon (rental)
Kyle: I kept seeing this movie pop up on Apple TV and was thoroughly confused by its existence. I had never heard of it, and I generally think Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an appearance that can’t carry the weighty roles in which he’s cast (or, now, casts himself).
Jim: Look, to start, I just want to say writing, directing and starring in a film is not an easy thing to do. So while I may not have enjoyed the film all that much, JGL deserves a pat on the back. And as for not being able to carry weighty roles, I agree. Part of what gets under my skin about his acting ability is that it seems to be 90% face. So much of his acting in Don Jon, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception (the latter two of which I didn’t dislike him in, probably because he was used sparingly) happened between hairline and chin. It’s squishy face all over the place. He was better in Looper, where he was required to do less and his fake Bruce Willis nose got in the way of his face-acting.
Kyle: Totally agree, and he has a baby face. I still can’t see him as anything other than the guy from Third Rock, which is a problem when the movie is about feverish masturbation. Or masturbating feverishly.
The synopsis is that JGL is basically The Situation and he meets Scarlett Johansson (I go by actors’ names usually because, really, that’s what matters here), who ostensibly loves him but isn’t thrilled when she picks up on his habit. At first blush, it appears to be an edgy romantic comedy – and perhaps it is – but it feels different. JGL tried to convey his character’s ritualistic existence through repetition with the editing. That’s putting it kindly, however. I see what he was trying to do, but there’s a point where you can only use the same sequence of cuts before it just gets annoying.
Jim: You took the words right out of my mouth. Extreme close-ups with quick cuts? Long shots that zoom in almost immediately? Wash, rinse, repeat. Also, for the better part of about 80% of this movie, everyone in it is an asshole. I can handle that, and some films pull that off very well, but this one doesn’t. And please, maybe you can explain how (LIGHT SPOILERS) a porn-addicted man who lectures his dad about what a TiVo is doesn’t know there is such a thing as an internet history. JGL has this whole open-collaboration company that deals almost strictly in online content, but he wants us to believe a grown man has never even heard of browser history. It’s 2013, and dude doesn’t even have a password on his laptop. Is he a human man?
Kyle: It’s not believable that such a connoisseur wouldn’t know this stuff. And forget about Incognito mode, that would’ve been way too advanced for him. Judging by his lack of knowledge about the features on a modern web browser, I’m surprised he didn’t download his preferred adult material on Kazaa, or didn’t have a $40-per-month-stealthily-recurring subscription to Brazzers that he accidentally locked himself into after forgetting to cancel his JugFuckers trial.
Jim: That’s probably because JGL (and the producers, I don’t wanna put this all on him) didn’t want to turn down that Pornhub product placement money. It is nice to see, at the end of the credits amongst all of the other technical junk, the Pornhub logo:
I also like that the film employed a “Pornography Consultant.” Like they needed an extra dude on the payroll for that.
Kyle: Honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t Tony Danza. Dude looks like he knows his way around the web. But imagine being the “Pornography Consultant” for an R-rated movie. Talk about swallowing (spitting?) your pride. I think you’d get more respect as a waiter or fluffer.
Jim: Respect? Sure. But which looks better on your CV? Still probably fluffer. But yeah, back to the movie. I’ll give Scarlett Johansson credit. She fell into her guidette role a lot more comfortably than JGL did into his. JGL looked like the was squirming to get out of his skin for half of the movie, but Johansson — who often lacks charisma — fit pretty comfortably into hers. She chomped on that gum and wore those gigantic hoop earrings like she belonged on the Wildwood Boardwalk. It was a solid performance.
Kyle: Concur. I didn’t doubt for one second her role as a boardwalk slore.
Overall, I was just confused by the movie. It got 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think this is an instance where the Rotten Tomatoes style of rating can be bad. The percentage is based on how many critical reviews were generally positive about the film. So take, for example, Toy Story 3, which got 99%. You’d think that it was the greatest movie of all-time, and going in, I thought that maybe it would be some magical Disney instant-classic. It was good, sure, and it’s nearly impossible to watch a movie like that and not give it a favorable review, but it was far from outstanding. That’s what happened with Don Jon. It was enjoyable, and, if pressed for answer, I’d give it a thumb up, but the 81% set expectations wayyyy higher than they should’ve been. I mean, we’re talking about a movie that leans heavily on montages of JGL whacking it and flexing (for the ladies), and Scarlett Johansson’s overall appearance (for the men). It felt like an unfortunate version of Silver Linings Playbook. Same general theme – loser lives at home with Northeast parents, has an appalling vice, meets well-figured starlet – but lesser in almost every respect. As I said, JGL tried to do some things with camera angles and editing to convey his character’s ritualistic existence – gym, tan, laundry, spank it, CHURCH – that were just too unpolished to be in a major film. It was artistic, but at times not watchable. I did however like the commentary on religion and the bogus-ness of Catholic confession— that part flew under the radar and it was a nice touch.
Jim: Yeah. I’ll give him credit for trying things and being stylish as a director right out of the gate, but I don’t think the film could pass for one directed by a vet or a non-actor. And the church stuff brings up another issue I had with the way the movie chose to tell this story. There was a nice and subtle criticism of the church, the act of confession, and the overall formula of the whole thing. He was doing a good job making that dig, but then, at the end, he had to go and literally spell it out for you, like you hadn’t caught on. That ruined it for me.
Kyle: One last thing: Is Julianne Moore a fine wine?
Jim: We didn’t touch on her role here very much because the conversation would be inherently spoiler-filled, but while I found her plot to be a little hackneyed, you cannot argue that she doesn’t know what she’s doing in front of a camera. Additionally, for my final thought, I haven’t watched it in a while but I do remember really enjoying The Lookout, which does in fact feature JGL acting. So, watch that if you want.
Kyle: I don’t know how much more of him I can take. But for this movie: I give this a solid C overall. Watchable, not great, far from terrible. ScarJo. Porn. JULIANNE MOORE. Tony Danza in a wife beater. Porn. What says you?
Jim: I’m gonna go C+. While I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, I did find myself chuckling at some points and the “+” is well-earned for the one shot of JGL shooting a basketball like someone who has never shot a basketball before in his entire life.
Terms and conditions May Apply – 2013, Netflix
Just what, exactly, you’re signing up for when you click “I agree” online. Great soundtrack, too.
Encounters at the End of the World – 2007, Netflix
Werner Herzog goes to the end of the world to meet the people who stay in Antarctica long-term, and makes the kind of bizarre observations only Herzog can.
Snowpiercer – 2013, iTunes, Amazon
Chris Evans, whose existence was forever ruined for me in Not Another Teen Movie, plays the protagonist in this film about a post-Apocalyptic train carrying the remains of humanity around the frozen world without anyone to do routine track maintenance. It’s available on-demand and for rent on iTunes and Amazon.