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Porn Problems 

Just a warning: This movie about a guy who loves porn has quite a bit of porn in it

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) only has time in his life for a few things. He takes care of his body and his apartment, loves his family, attends Sunday mass each week, works out just as religiously, hangs out with his friends, and sleeps with a lot of women. Granted, that's a pretty packed schedule. But he still finds time for pornography.

As he explains in the opening moments of Don Jon (the "Don" is a mafia-inspired nickname among his peers), no matter how many women he takes to bed and no matter how hot they are, it's just not the same as going online and finding that perfect clip. Obviously, this represents a problem, though Jon doesn't see it that way. His confessing to masturbating more than 30 times a week, however, tells us his real life isn't as fulfilling as he thinks it is.

Jon and his friends rate women on the standard scale. They'll argue over who's a 6 and who's a 7, but when Jon sees Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he knows she's a 10. Or "a dime," in the local vernacular. She is not easy to talk into the sack, and Jon has to work for it for the first time in his life. During his quest/conquest, Jon begins to look at life a little differently. He's in love, it's not all about sex, he goes back to school, and he's really trying to quit porn.

Well, that's what he tells Barbara, anyway. She catches him in action and threatens to leave, but, as Jon tells us, it's surprisingly easy to get that stuff on your phone, so his addiction is only adjusted. How sustainable do you think that will be?

Some actors are lucky enough to have their "moment," when it all comes together and all the hard work pays off. They're suddenly able to do the work they want to do, audiences respond, and studios pay. For that flash of time, they can do no wrong. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, is enjoying a healthy moment. About a decade ago, he was too big an insurance risk for most producers (true story) but last year he cashed a $50 million check for The Avengers.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is either in the middle of the moment or this movie came a year too late. (500) Days of Summer lined him up for Inception, and 50/50, The Dark Knight Rises, and Looper followed quickly. If Don Jon leaves general audiences as breathless as it did the festival crowds, we'll see more of Gordon-Levitt doing whatever he wants to do.

Gordon-Levitt, it should be noted, has been great while on his roll. Actually, you can go back to The Lookout in 2007 to see where this all started. His multimedia production company, hitRECord, has taken off, too, and is listed as a production company on this film. And because Gordon-Levitt also wrote and directed Don Jon, he's clearly identifying himself as an artist first at this stage.

If there's a surprise in his feature directorial debut, it's the heavy amount of porn. Jon talks about it, of course, describes the ways in which it is superior to real sex, and Gordon-Levitt drops in tons of clips from porn movies that punctuate his character's thoughts. It's on a scale similar to the parade of N-words in Django Unchained, and if you can get through the added footage, you'll be fine.

Gordon-Levitt writes smart, clever dialogue across a wide spectrum of characters, although his identification of some of those characters feels a little forced and flat. But Jon is distinct, as are Barbara and Esther (Julianne Moore), a classmate in his night school class struggling with life as a newly single woman. Other characters don't really distinguish themselves, except for maybe Jon's father (Tony Danza), who is constant comic relief.

Don Jon is designed to be repetitive. That's what Gordon-Levitt establishes early on by telling us what's important to him. So, with every week that passes, we see him back in church, back in the gym, and so on. It's a pretty common technique, and it works well here with a character trying (or in certain situations, earnestly not trying) to change his ways. However, walking us through Jon's routine will only get a movie so far, and Don Jon is soft in the third act. It's not a bad ending, but it doesn't feel totally natural or conclusive.

Tying up those loose ends will come with more time behind the camera, but Don Jon is still a ballsy statement from a young filmmaker. The style, the frank and occasionally graphic story, and even stepping into this role show that there's more to Joseph Gordon-Levitt than previously thought. Let's hope this really is just the middle of his moment.

More by Colin Boyd

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