It should come as no surprise that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's initial bow as a director should prove to contain none of the stumbling blocks that normally vex first time filmmakers. Made with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, Don Jon is a supremely engaging look at the way the modern world has corrupted the way we both value and engage with one another. That he has managed to make a study of objectification, a film about one man's inability to differentiate his love for things (his car, his house, his pornography) and people (the women he meets, his friends, his family), as humorous and crowd-pleasing as he has suggests a vibrant new voice in filmmaking. Gordon-Levitt, unsatisfied with being a hyphenate in name only is Director-Writer-Star of this piece, is the titular Jon, a Jersey Shore archetype whose empty one night stands with girls picked up at various nightclubs are supplemented through his problematically deep relationship with pornography. A nightclub conquest who refuses to be immediately wooed, the voluptuous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, channeling Drea de Matteo), sends him on the path to settling down. However, it's the relationship Jon develops with the emotional live-wire Esther (Julianne Moore), a fellow night-class student, that might finally allow for him to finally bridge the physical and emotional and share an experience with another person worth pursuing.
The film's biggest asset is its immaculate sense of pacing, with whip-smart editing and sound design. The character of Jon lives a pretty strongly regimented life, and the editing reflects this to a T, making for any deviation from that norm into a visually and rhythmically distinct subsection of the film. And while the editing is dazzling, it draws inferences without drawing attention to itself – framing his church confession and self-pleasuring sessions as similarly one-way transactions, for instance. And while the way the film showcases the myriad ways we've developed unhealthy relationships with one another couldn't possibly be classified as subtle, it is admirable the way even the more peripheral of characters can embody the message being conveyed the film's heart. Be it through telephones or TV, pornography or movies we're continually constructing walls that protect us from true engagement with one another, instead settling for tired narratives and unfeasible ideals that we can't possibly attain.
The film isn't flawless – outside of the main character, some of the supporting turns come off as a little undercooked, most problematically Scarlett Johansson's character who starts off feeling fully formed but eventually becomes a vehicle for other characters and their development. But this is a minor quibble; Gordon-Levitt has announced himself as a filmmaker with something to say, an intensely valuable commodity in a market where meaning or messages are often sanded down to dull, empty hero's journey style platitudes in the development process. This is a fully-formed voice springing into the scene and knocking it out of the park with his first swing. I can't wait to see what he does next, as his opening salvo announces a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on.