Review: Don Jon (Wargame of Love)

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Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) respects his home, his body, his family and his God, but women…what have they done that’s worth respecting? When last week’s conquest asks: “Why didn’t you call me?” Jon says, “You’re a grown woman, you knew what you were doing.” For Jon, dating is a no-risk, high-yield proposition—so far there’s no need for long-term investments. He’s got methods, they work, and like everything else in his life, he’s not interested in further questions. It’s not until he meets Barbara (Scarlet Johansson) he gets a (flirty) rejection, and for a moment her bait and switch game make her look like Machiavelli in the battle of the sexes (it gets harder to admire her after more exposure). When she finds out he’s into porn, she ends it…twice. What Jon only partly explains is the way he gets lost in porn is like the way she gets lost in romantic movies, and while both have sacrificed their relationships on the altar of media neither is that keen on slowing down their consumption. Julianne Moore is reliably delicate, playing a fragile older student in the night class Barbara coaxed Jon into taking. She’s the alternative to the comprehensive system of order and obedience Jon has no issue participating in—she’s like Woodstock Jersey, while Jon’s more Jersey Shore. She’s the alternative to Jon’s way of life and as such his antidote.

Sexy, insightful and maybe a little twee, Don Jon is about to hit its demographic like a toy commercial on Saturday Morning. It’s lithe and smart and doesn’t smack you with what it clearly sees as a message. Instead it couches its big concern—that media (film especially) wounds the romantic expectations of its fans—in faux regional cinema. Screenwriter/director/star Joseph Gordon Levitt is hardly an Italian Catholic from Jersey, but he and the cast Guido-it-up with such gusto you’d think it was a game. Glenne Headley (as Jon’s mom) has her manicured finger on the right kind of shrill to deliver her concern, delight or pasta. There are moments you’ll confuse Johannson for a young Debi Mazar; she scrunches her nose and for a moment is unrecognizable.

A confessional scenes in which Jon requests absolution for his masturbation and unwed sex demonstrates the robotic efficiency of the Catholic Church and some of where Jon got his ideas about the inner-workings of life. He’s not what you’d call a “seeker,” and not to suggest that Gordon-Levitt is making a statement about Jersey Italians but to a certain extent this is our best answer for the film’s setting. Why choose Jersey when people everywhere retreat to protect their vulnerability? Maybe other places don’t feature the accents and mannerisms actors chew on like it’s a sport—but Gordon-Levitt clearly found a world that can swing from abrasive to cozy in no time, and he’s not the only person on this passion project that loves the hell out of it.

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