Friday, 13 September 2013

DON JOHN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - White Trash Masturbation "Comedy" purports to be "smart".

I'm so cute and sexy
when I masturbate to internet porn,
especially with this sickening smirk
plastered perpetually across my face
and sporting this stupid haircut.
Don John (2013) *1/2
Dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headley, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Anne Hathaway, Tatum Channing
Review By Greg Klymkiw

Go ahead, folks. Knock yourself out if alternating between the following resembles your idea of a good time:

90-or-so minutes of Joseph Gordon-Leavitt with a bad haircut and smirking like some malevolent ventriloquist's dummy (think Michael Redgrave's murderous wooden pal in Cavalcanti's segment of Dead of Night)
Scarlett Johansson as a repulsively Bovine White Trash girlfriend constantly nagging and cockteasing Gordon-Leavitt whilst chewing gum with her mouth open - in a decidedly cud-like fashion.

Don Jon (nyuck-nyuck-nyuck, get it?) has first-time director Joseph Gordon-Leavitt starring in the title role - so named by his equally stupid, sexist, misogynistic Jersey buds (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) due to his prowess at picking up babes for one night stands. When he's not working aimlessly in the "service industry" as a bartender, or tearing about on his wheels exhibiting acute road rage, he hangs with his buds in a pick-up joint to rate the chicks on the 1-to-10 scale and eventually targets one of them as a bit of poontang-to-go. And damn, Jon is a genuine Don Juan (or, uh, Jon) as he scores all the time. He doesn't actually enjoy sex except with someone he really loves. The "someone he really loves", would, of course hark back to Woody Allen's great quip referring to palm action, or as Borat calls it, "the hand pleasure." Yup, he's an inveterate masturbator who beats his meat several times a day to internet porn. He goes to church every Sunday, says confession, gets the necessary absolution and penance (reserving his "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" recitations for the gym to keep his physique amply babe-magnet-ish), joins his equally stupid, sexist, misogynistic (and - ugh - sports obsessed) father (Tony Danza - who'd actually be funny if the script had given him good material to work with) and his dreary, subservient mother who dreams of the day Sonny Jon will bring home a marriage prospect to give her grandchldren (Glenne Headley - who'd actually be funny if the script had given her good material to work with) and his little sister (Brie Larson - who is genuinely funny since her sole "material" involves sitting at the dinner table with her mouth shut and her fingers tapping text messages on her smart phone). Jon's meagre life seems complete until - horrors! - he spots a perfect "10" at the Jersey meat market he and his buds hang in. With the introduction of this White Trash vision to rival the face that launched a thousand ships, we are forced to endure the ubiquitous presence of the increasingly intolerable Scarlett Johansson.

What follows is a fairly predictable chain of events. Jon starts to date the trashy lassie. She drags him to intolerable chick flicks (one of which stars Anne Hathaway and Tatum Channing). He spends less and less time with his buds. When he informs the folks he has a regular woman in his life, Mom is predictably overjoyed. His new girlie teases and tempts, but never delivers the goods. She's a wily minx, though, and knows all too well a case of blue balls might have a disastrous effect upon her long-term gain, so she does Jon the honour of allowing him to dry-hump her. Great! More cum-stains on his clothing. (Oh, an I kid you not, there's actually a scene wherein we get to enjoy the sight of all the dried cum stains in his pants before he tosses them into the laundry.)

Alas, before he's going to get any serious nookie out of this babe, he pretty much has to engage in the following checklist of annoying activities so he can get some honest-to-goodness nookie out of her. He must meet her friends. She must meet his friends. She must meet his parents. He must meet her parents. Oh, and most of all, he must seek to "better" himself and enrol in an evening college class to eventually work his way into a management position - either in the food and beverage industry or whatever loser industry will take him and/or provide enough dough to satisfy his girlie.

Once the checklist is successfully completed, she spreads 'em wide open - missionary, of course, no porn star action, certainly no money shot and not even a blowjob.

What's an inveterate masturbator to do?

He fires up the computer, of course.

When she catches our boy in the act, all Hell breaks loose.

Are you laughing yet? I wasn't. Do any of these story beats surprise you? None of them surprised me. Did the movie, in spite of these shortcomings offer a decent ride? Not at all. The very problem, you see, is that the movie pretty much stinks. Gordon-Leavitt and Johansson have no chemistry whatsoever. Granted, and with some fairness to the picture, this lack of onscreen fireworks is supposed to be the point - or something. After 30 minutes of blue balls, then another 30 minutes of bad sex, nagging and more masturbation, Jon eventually and conveniently discovers via an affair with a hot older woman he meets at night school (Julianne Moore) that to find true happiness with a life partner he's got to be true to himself and to have good sex he needs to "get lost" in the other person.

Do you feel like regurgitating yet? Well lemme tell ya, I shorely felt like letting loose.

Save for the always wonderful Julianne Moore (no matter how dreadful the role and/or writing is) and the aforementioned Brie Larson as Gordon-Leavitt's text-crazy sister who eventually talks and delivers the only real laughs (and common sense) in the whole movie, the performances of the other leads leave much to be desired. Half the blame rests with Gordon-Leavitt's fake, overwrought screenplay - jammed to the rafters with his idea of working-class Jersey-speak and the other half of the blame residing in his miscalculated direction which forces most of the actors, including himself, to spit and shout their lines with what he (and they) think is the stuff of life itself. It's not, of course. It feels like a whole lot of privileged actors pretending they know what it's like to be poor and ignorant. (I don't get offended easily, but when I see actors allowed to indulge in disingenuous crap like this, my P.C. Meter, usually set well below zero, skyrockets to the moons of Jupiter.)

The whole ugly, wretched mess, of course, is what lets pundits and players alike, congratulate the filmmakers (and by, extension, themselves) for being "smart". I've come to detest that word as it's used, abused and overused these days by those who are anything but, and almost always about material that's far from being even remotely endowed with the word's genuine attributes. A quick Google search that includes the title of the film and the word "smart" yields a veritable manna from Heaven of critics ejaculating all over the movie and all using the word "smart".

Here's a sickening sampling:

"... a smart filmmaking debut."
"... definitely smarter than your average R-rated comedy."
"... bracingly smart."
"... authentic and smart."
"... edgy and smart."
"... really smart and sharp."
"... a smart blend of comedic moments."
"... energetic, smart, stylish."
"... humour and smart observation."
"... smart writing."

A mere drop in the bucket and it just goes on and on.

Smart, my ass.

Interestingly, there already exist two fine and unsung Canadian films that deal with the subject matter a whole lot more entertainingly, intelligently and subversively than Gordon-Leavitt's sloppy feel-good fakery.

The first is the delightful romantic comedy Love, Sex and Eating the Bones (2003) by Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness. It has an almost identical plot, but the big difference is that it's genuinely intelligent (as opposed to the aforementioned "smart"), very well written and directed with real pizzaz (as opposed to Gordon-Leavitt's wanna-be zip) and consummate craft, unlike the clear Dream Machine propping-up that inexperienced directors down South rely upon so they don't end up looking like complete morons. Though Sutherland's screenplay was a tad moralistic for my taste, it comes by its morality honestly and it naturally grows from within the context of the narrative - unlike the fake morality tale sloppily shoehorned into Don Jon.

The other terrific Canadian film that beat Gordon-Leavitt to the punch is the harrowing, hilarious personal documentary by Matthew Pollack, Run, Run, It's Him (2010) wherein the filmmaker, over the course of 7 years, explored his very real obsession with porn and, of course, sex with someone he really and truly loved.

Get thee to a video rental store or your favourite on-demand venue. These filmmakers are the real thing and their films deserve your support well beyond the meagre pleasures doled out by Don Jon.

"Don John" is a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit TIFF's website HERE. The film opens theatrically via Remstar.

RUN, RUN, IT'S HIM - click HERE 4 more info