Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature as a director and screenwriter (as well as star) follows a guy whose porn habit approaches Clockwork Orange constancy, and it features as much skin and thrust as can be superfast-montaged into a hard-R movie. But Don Jon's overall tone is boyish — sometimes even girlish — and its darkest emotions are far from harrowing.
It's a relaxed and assured picture that's upfront about its debts to Martin Scorsese (Gordon-Levitt likes the editing bay more than the camera, but he likes the camera a lot) and Saturday Night Fever (he also likes broad dinner-table farce and nightclub alpha-dogging), and it's a throwback in most of the ways that count. But for the cellphones and the laptops — the tools of modern porn production and consumption — Don Jon could be a modest time capsule from 30 or 40 years ago, a low-key sketch of types on their way to becoming characters.
What makes Don Jon modest is that it's ultimately an examination of ritual and its insular qualities: the rites of family, male friendship and Catholicism more than those of dating or sex (solo or otherwise). It's less about addiction, then, and more about compulsion — an easing of dramatic necessity that allows dawning realization to win out over sudden epiphany. Not that Gordon-Levitt doesn't give himself a couple of biggish acting moments; his scenes with Julianne Moore, who joins the picture late to clean up after some thematic sloppiness, give off the whiff of striving (and, mostly, succeeding). Until Moore shows up, we get Scarlett Johansson as a honk-voiced Jersey siren called Barbara Sugarman, and that somehow works out just fine, too.