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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE version |
. "Don Jon"

Jon "Don Jon" Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) may be a grown-up -- at least he looks like one -- but his mentality is strictly out of puberty. And, a whole lot of teenagers are going to applaud him for supporting one or two of their impulses. Heaven-sent for that crowd.

You could say the same for the loads of women in bars that are instantly attracted to him and his puffy pecs, which is why his crew has given him his nickname -- one that he takes pride in, which is a character reveal.

The twist here is that while his primary objective in life is sex, the major part of that is his passion for porn. So it gets harder and harder [unintended pun but I'll live with it] to understand when the flow of babes comes down to a love fest with dominatrix Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, "The Avengers") whom this ladykiller regards as the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.

If you think this makes him give up his auto-eroticism "hobby," you'd be wrong. It's just that he has to hide it from her. And, perhaps his biggest failing is that when he's faced with an untenable situation, like her demand that he give up his odd practice when she discovers it on his computer, he lies. He can no more give up his porn than an addict can give up his fix. In fact, that's exactly what it is.

Not exactly the brightest bulb in the mine shaft, he's not too quick on picking up the problem with the "gem" he's fallen for... until his highly laconic sis Monica (Brie Larson, "The Spectacular Now") explains it to him.

The cuteness here is in the idiomatic language all characters possess, something out of Hell's Kitchen, a mix of Stanley Kowalski and a wannabe mafioso. It's definitely a departure from anything these fine actors have done before and their mastering of the style goes to stirling direction -- from who else? Gordon-Levitt.

Other stylistic elements include repeated behaviors: Jon going to church every week with mom Angela (Glenne Headly, "Parks and Recreation" TV series), dad Jon Sr. (Tony Danza) and sis, winding up in the confession booth declaring his every sex act that week and accepting his hail mary punishments and absolution with full agreement and feeling cleansed; his arrival at the gym where he gets his exceptional build; regularly spaced night club action with his dudes; and dinner around the family table where controlling dad has the large TV tuned to football while bullying his son while mom does her best to referee the verbal combat. You could call the film episodic, but here it's part of the stylistic landscape and set efficiency.

Into his so-far simple life of family, friends, church and right hand steps Esther (the odd casting of Julianne Moore, "Children of Men") who comes off at first like the late insertion of a needy pest whom Jon must meet if the plot is going to move beyond a simple sex comedy.

So, Esther becomes more sympathetic in order for us to accept that she holds the key to Jon's future happiness, if he's to have any. But I can't shake the question: "how did Julianne Moore get into this scenario?" The writer (also Gordon-Levitt) needed a resolution and Esther was the mechanism? But, still, Julianne Moore? 53 to G's 32?

From the time I saw the actor with the double last name (one each from his parents) in "The Lookout," I became a huge fan and raved about his performance as the central figure of this terrifically-written crime thriller of 2007. He not only has satisfied all my expectations (despite the smaller roles he continued to get until 2009 when he did "(500) Days of Summer" with Zooey Deschanel, his range has far exceeded them.

From romantic comedies to futuristic killers ("Looper," "Inception," Gordon-Levitt is now top-of-the-list. This is his first directorial gig for a full length (a smart 90 minutes) feature film.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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