Like so many actors who have come before, Joseph Gordon-Levitt decided to take a shot behind the camera. Luckily for him, Don Jon not only continues his streak of winning on-screen performances but actually has a fighting chance of making a few Top 10 lists by the end of 2013.
The film opens with a montage of pop culture video clips from the near past that barely register with Americans as sexual anymore; think along the lines of Sisqo's "Thong Song" video and you'll get the picture. This is our entry into the world of Joe Martello (Gordon-Levitt), given the moniker of the film's title by his friends due to his prowess as a womanizer. As he haunts his favorite dance clubs, Joe takes pride in his streak of taking a different girl home each night. However, porn is also on Joe's short list of life's priorities, and he has become so addicted to the escapades he watches on his home computer that his real-life sex life always fail to measure up.
Shortly after beginning a relationship with his dream girl, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Joe dedicates himself to stop consuming porn cold turkey. That resolve slips and he's watching videos on his phone during his night-school classes; a classmate (Julianne Moore) catches him and reveals that the action found onscreen isn't really "real."
The script, written by Gordon-Levitt as well, is one of the more spectacular to reach movie screens this year. Working with a risky, not-guaranteed-to-amuse subject, Gordon-Levitt has fun with the situations his character finds himself in. His Joe is proudly attentive to every detail of his home, car, body and family, with porn being just another integral element.
Gordon-Levitt's direction still leaves much to be desired, however. Seemingly enamored with the work of Kevin Smith (Clerks), many scenes appear to have been set up with that auteur's point-at-a-wall-and-shoot directing style. The film even features it own Silent Bob-esque character in Joe's sister Monica (Brie Larson), who taps ceaselessly at her cellphone until the time comes for her to unleash the truth.
There are a few casting duds to be found, as well, the biggest being Tony Danza inhabiting the role of Joe Sr.—his scenes screaming at Gordon-Levitt over bowls of pasta are a waste of time.
This film isn't for everyone, and it certainly isn't perfect. It may be too soon for Gordon-Levitt to give up the day job, but Don Jon nevertheless is a surprisingly auspicious writing and directing debut.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fast men."