“Don Jon” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Besides being a mature yet heartfelt indie film, Don Jon has been getting a lot of attention because of its subject matter and, more interestingly, the fact that this film marks actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. The film largely succeeds where it matters most, and Gordon-Levitt should be commended for his work—especially since he is also the film’s writer and titular character. Considering his unique involvement with the project, the casting of this film is doubly interesting, since the actors chosen are people that Gordon-Levitt not only wanted to act alongside with, but also direct. This duality can definitely be seen in the film’s cast, which is composed of both known and not-so-well-known actors.

Originally titled Don Jon’s Addiction, the now-shortened Don Jon tells the story of “Jon” (Gordon-Levitt)—a charismatic, machismo Italian-American who loves porn just as much as he loves his family, friends, and church, if not more. His bachelor lifestyle is quickly turned on its head when he meets “Barbara”—a blonde bombshell who turns out to be just as flawed and self-absorbed as Jon himself. Played by Scarlett Johansson, Barbara is a walking master-class on manipulation, and she easily wraps Jon around her finger, convincing him to change up his entire lifestyle to better match her conception of the ideal storybook romance, the kind you only see in the movies. Even though Joseph Gordon-Levitt has run the gambit of roles in his acting career, his turn as porn-addict Jon is a surprisingly refreshing change of pace for him. Gordon-Levitt’s previous roles typically found him playing the likeable leading man, the cute but awkward teen, or the dark, edgy, and damaged type anti-hero. Don Jon’s Jon is a sort of hybrid of all those types of roles—he’s cute, hot, religious, caring, character-y, edgy, likeable, and slightly dangerous to name a few. The end result is a complex and multi-layered protagonist who only uses porn because he doesn’t fully understand how to really be with someone intimately.  Gordon-Levitt is a consummate pro, and it’s fun watching him really delve into the psyche of this character.

Although Gordon-Levitt’s Jon is well-developed and realized, Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara is, by far, the standout performance in the film. If you think Johansson is just playing another sexy blonde type in Don Jon, you are completely wrong. Barbara is as delusional and complex as she is hot, and she is convinced that her life, and, in turn, boyfriend, has to be exactly like in the movies. Rather than playing the character as overly-aggressive and bitchy, Johansson uses subtlety, charm, and coercion to create a character that is deliciously insidious. Barbara rips out Jon’s heart, nonchalantly tosses it back to him, and then blames the entire failed relationship on him. This role is a good reminder that Johansson can tackle an indie, character-driven film just as easily as a mega blockbuster studio franchise, which only further validates her staying power in Hollywood.

Adding to the star power of the film, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza also have noteworthy roles in the story. Moore plays “Esther”, an emotionally fragile woman who Jon meets in his evening college class. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that eventually turns into something more. Danza is perfectly cast as Gordon-Levitt’s father, “Jon Sr.” (the two have such an uncanny resemblance it’s kind of spooky), and it’s just great to see him on the big screen again. Moore’s character here isn’t too different from some of her previous roles, and it would have been nice to see her character have more room to play in especially given the fact that her character becomes much more significant toward the latter half of the film’s story. Moore is still great in this role—it’s just easy to nitpick since she has such an extensive (and still expanding) body of work to draw comparisons to.

Rounding out the rest of Jon’s family, Glenne Headly plays “Angela”, Jon’s worrisome Italian mother who only wants Jon to be happy . . . especially if that happiness entails getting married and having children. Headly brings a sense of warmth and realness which really helps to solidify the family as a unit in the story. Then, in an odd choice, actress Brie Larson plays “Monica”, Jon’s sister, whose eyes are perpetually glued to her phone during the entire film. Larson is an odd choice here because she literally only has 1 line in the movie (at the very end), even though she has plenty of screen time. In fact, she is pretty much in every family scene in the film, she just never speaks. As mentioned in my review for The Spectacular Now, Larson is quickly coming into her own as a young leading lady, which is why it’s a shame that she’s so under-utilized in Don Jon.

The final characters worth noting here are Jon’s two best friends—“Bobby”, played by Rob Brown, and “Danny”, played by Jeremy Luke. Brown has been building steady momentum for himself by landing great leading and supporting roles in large films. His first breakout role was in the film Finding Forrester, which he booked when he was only 16-years-old, and starred opposite Sean Connery. Subsequent credits have included Coach Carter, Stop-Loss, The Expressand The Dark Knight RisesLuke is a working, up-and-coming actor, and his role in Don Jon is probably one of his biggest gigs to date. Not surprisingly, Luke has booked a string of back-to-back jobs since Don Jon; he can next be seen in the new TNT series Mob City, as well as Clint Eastwood’s feature film adaptation of Jersey Boys. Brown and Luke have great chemistry with Gordon-Levitt, and the three really feel like they are each others’ wingmen.

The casting in Don Jon covers all the basic essentials for a solid independent film. The movie has enough star power to get people into the theatre, while the actors’ top-notch performances will help fuel word-of-mouth to get even more people to watch the film. The movie also acts as a good launch pad for the cast, and the less recognizable actors here should benefit nicely from the A-list exposure. Johansson definitely steals the spotlight whenever she is on screen, and many people are already saying that this is one of her best acting performances to date! Considering that Gordon-Levitt was very much hands-on during the casting process of Don Jon, it’s no surprise how strong the cast is, and he deserves extra kudos for helping to bring out stellar performances from the actors, both in front of and behind the camera.

Extra viewing tip: Look out for fun cameo appearances from Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.!

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Kyle