By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- We may not be addicted to it, but sex addiction seems to be one of the movie themes of the moment.
Perhaps 2011's Shame and last week's Thanks for Sharing don't quite comprise a mini-trend, but Don Jon certainly extends the impression.
Don Jon is debuting writer-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt's take on the subject.
Gordon-Levitt, a busy actor whom we got to know as the child star on the TV sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun," then later as a character actor in such films as The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, and Lincoln, and ultimately as a leading man in (500) Days of Summer, 50/50, Premium Rush, and Looper.
In Don Jon (formerly titled "Don Jon's Addiction"), Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon Martello, a swaggering New Jersey lothario who's a stranger to real intimacy but is such a successful womanizer that his friends –- objectifiers of women not unlike him -- call him "Don Jon."
And he's our host, addressing us directly and taking us on a guided tour of his personality and lifestyle.
A big part of why he behaves as he does, before confessing his sins of the flesh every Sunday, is his addiction to Internet pornography, which he finds more compelling and satisfying than actual sex with a partner and thus stands in his way, blocking the possibility of a meaningful relationship with a woman.
But then he meets Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson. A knockout but no pushover, she's looking for a real, lasting relationship, and Joe falls fast and hard.
She drags him along to her favorite movie genre, romantic comedy (look for Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway cameos -- enough said).
He soon even brings her around, unheard of for him, to meet his Italian-American family -– his parents (Tony Danza and Glenn Headly) and younger sister (Brie Larson). Suddenly he's more or less addicted to her.
But Barbara soon finds out more than she'd like to know about Jon's sexual predilections, and the course of true love stops running smoothly.
Then Jon meets Esther (played by Julianne Moore), an older classmate of his in a night class at the local community college –- an activity that Jon undertook in response to Barbara's urging that he better himself.
Esther approaches him and seems to see right through him without even trying.
Thus does an unlikely relationship develop, one in which she contributes mightily to his enlightenment and evolution.
Gordon-Levitt's script, which certainly has something to say about gender roles in contemporary society, sometimes articulates its themes and underscores its "message" a bit too directly for its own good –- there is text that really would work better as subtext -– and it can and does get repetitious.
But the performances the director gets out of his principals, including himself, and his supporting ensemble are aces. Each of the leads lets the vulnerability bleed through the toughness, and the energetically edited film film bravely refrains from being overly ingratiating.
This is an honest attempt to grapple with a risky, tricky subject.
So we'll reform 2½ stars out of 4 for the cheeky, R-rated comedy-drama Don Jon, as freshly minted auteur Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers The Porn Ultimatum.
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