There are oh so obvious allusions to the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, all throughout this film, but one could also look at Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut as something akin to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. Just replace the mob and drugs of Scorsese's iconic 1990 film with the sex and porn of Don Jon. Now I am not trying to make some outrageous claim like Don Jon is as great a film as Goodfellas. Sure, JGL's film is enjoyable (more enjoyable than I expected it to be) if not a bit "on the nose" as far as human dramadies go, but it sure ain't in the same realm as Scorsese's modern classic, but still, there are things here that remind one of Scorsese's film. Perhaps nothing but superficial stuff (circumstantial evidence at best officer), but stuff nonetheless. The relatively constant voiceover, the straight on shots, the abrupt endings to certain scenes or shots, the Italian family atmosphere all smell of Scorsese 101. Granted, they are not done here to the expertise of the master, but when perpetrated by the nubile youthful exuberance of the aforementioned Mr. Gordon-Levitt, these things can have a fun effect to them. But enough of the good, what of the bad, and perhaps even the ugly?
Early on in the film, Gordon-Levitt's Jon Martello, aka the titular Don Jon (he's got a way with the ladies), talks about the superiority of internet porn over the typical Hollywood romantic comedy, which is an ironic thing because the writer/director/star has made what is basically, a typical romantic comedy. Well, at least for the most part. There is a third act twist (though twist is probably overstating it) that gives one a somewhat refreshing atypical romcom feeling. Well, okay, the so-called twist really isn't that surprising, but it's at least something. Sure, Gordon-Levitt does a fine job in his self-created role (the actor does possess a certain charm), and even Scarlett Johansson gives what she can (she is basically just eye candy with a semi-faltering Jersey accent after all), and Julianne Moore gives the film some quirk and even some depth (albeit unsurprising depth), and we get a wife-beater-wearing Tony Danza to boot (and I mean that very sincerely, and not ironically at all), but overall the film falters mainly for its utter disdain for the out-of-the-ordinary. It certainly does seem like perhaps it wants to venture outside the safe insular world of the Hollywood (or Indie) romcom, but is just scared to take those dangerous steps.
We shouldn't be surprised to see someone like Gordon-Levitt in such a safe film. He has done so many films that have had the potential to go somewhere different and out of the ordinary but chose safe and dry instead. Films such as Looper, (500) Days of Summer, The Lookout, even Inception and The Dark Knight Rises were all films that thought they were going over the edge, but pulled themselves back before anything really intriguing happened. Gordon-Levitt had no creative say in those films (with the possible exception of (500) Days of Summer) but here he is nothing but sole creator, and still he takes the safe road more traveled. Like I said, there are some enjoyable things in here (there is more god than bad, but only slightly), and some pretty nifty potential (the porn storyline should give it at least some over the edge stuff), and it is a shame that the young first time director didn't do more with said potential. Perhaps something grittier but still charming. Perhaps something like the aforementioned Saturday Night Fever, which one must assume was the biggest influence on Don Jon. Oh well, perhaps next time JGL will dig a bit deeper. But still, it could have been much worse. How's that for some back door praise?