Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



Oscar Predictions

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Don Jon

Film #394


A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

Year 2, Film #29

THE REVIEW: Many times I’ve gone into a film with high expectations. You see the trailer and a cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and directed the film), Scarlett Johansson, and Julianne Moore of course you’re going to have high expectations. Sometime expectations are met, sometimes they’re not. When expectations are met it’s a wonderful experience. Sadly, Don Jon is not one of those times.

Two things the film does well is it’s comedy and acting, both of which are interchangeable here. Led by “Don Jon” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), there’s a general level of familiarity between all the characters. Whether it’s his best friends he goes out partying with, his family which isn’t the most calming of environments, the priest in the confessional, or the parade of women, it feels as if everyone knows everyone; there are no strangers here. A possible downside to this would be a loss in realism — it can take some time to get to know a new person — but that’s not how it feels here. In Don Jon the atmosphere that is created is one of mutual agreement. For situations like Jon’s family and friends, that’s easy to understand, but for people like the dime Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) or Esther (Juliane Moore) the blinding speed at which the relationships develop don’t seem out of the questions. And all this can then be exploited for the sake of comedy. Jon, Sr. (Tony Danza) who is always irate and swearing at the football game, the men being shamelessly misogynistic, or Esther being her casual and observant self, bits of comedy arise naturally and without much effort.

Conversely, this same feeling is also one of the worst parts of the film as well. Since a lot is established on prior relationships, or quickly developed relationships that fit the same mold, there is a lot of repetition. Routine would be a great word to describe it. The same things are done over and over again but nothing really changes. Part of that serves a purpose — porn isn’t just an escape for Jon, it’s an addition and the routine emphasizes that — but the other part is just boring. After a while, seeing the gym, the pad, the car, the church, and the club in an incessant cycle stops being funny, entertaining, and constructive and becomes pointless. You also get so used to this pattern that is established that when there finally are breaks, you just get confused. For example, at some point in the film, Barbara convinces Jon to go back to school to help him advance in his job. You hear Barbara make the suggestion and see Jon go to school, but something doesn’t click. It feels like an instantaneous and split decision, one that wasn’t thought all the way through. I don’t mean in terms of the characters — Jon probably did it for a very simple reason — but in terms of the film. Going back to school doesn’t feel like a natural progress and it shows in the writing. The flow from one point to the next is choppy. And it’s not just the school: it’s also the entire character ark of Esther and the inclusion of Monica (Brie Larson), Jon’s sister, as two more examples. Monica brings up the separate issue of purpose. Her character definitely serves a purpose and Brie Larson does a great job at portraying that. But at the same time, just giving her the one line in the last ten minutes of the film feels like a cheat, a deus ex machina. I get that her character is the quiet, introvert one (something I can relate with) but to have her provide such an impactful ending after doing nothing except check her phone the entire film, feels like a missed opportunity.

My recommendation: go into the film with low expectations. It won’t make the film any better than it is. The repetitive parts will still be there and it will still seem a bit jumpy, but it will allow you to focus more on the parts that are funny and enjoy the film. There is a lot to like about Don Jon and you can have a good time, but this isn’t the Oscar contender I hoped it would be, not by a long shot. My other recommendation: if you suffer from epilepsy, it’s probably best if you don’t watch Don Jon. I’m no expert on the disorder, but even I was taken aback by the frequent strobing and flashing that appears, both in the title and credit sequences as well as in the movie itself. Definitely something to look into before watching.

Don Jon opens in theaters on September 27, 2013.

THE RATING: 3 out of 5