The last two films I saw at SXSW were both excellent. One was a huge deal. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a budget appropriate to his star power. The other was a local low-budget indie flick that had an emotional impact disproportionate to its budget… i.e. huge impact, small budget.
JGL’s feature directorial debut, Don Jon (previously called Don Jon’s Addiction), is a comedy about a young Italian-American, his addiction to porn, and how it affects his life. Don Jon is Jon Martello (played by JGL). His friend’s call him Don Jon, a play on Don Juan the famous fictional libertine, because he has this uncanny ability to land “tens” pretty much every weekend. But he’s sleeping with different women every weekend and still not finding a woman that satisfies him as much as jerkin’ it to porn. And he seems to have come to terms with this. It’s simply a fact of life for him. Porn is better than real sex.
As we get to know Jon we learn that while he’s a sincere man he is also very concerned with appearances. He goes to church and confession every week, and is honest in his confessions. He has dinner with his parents, he is dedicated to his gym regiment. And then he meets this woman, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who seems to be the yin to his yang. She’s beautiful, assertive, intelligent… And she doesn’t give in to him right away, which appears to be the right move. She lures Jon into a relationship before he’s even aware of it. And it turns out she has her own addiction. She’s as addicted to films about romance as he is to porn, and it informs her world view just as much.
So when she catches him watching porn, and he successfully lies about his habit to her, Jon’s feeling that something isn’t right in his life start to surface. And that’s when what was only a humorous film up to that point started to get really interesting.
There’s two things that make this movie really great. The writing and the performances. JGL was able to create a story that encapsulated the way people objectify each other in a way that’s not pretentious. The humor is disarming and immediately puts you on the side of Don Jon, even though maybe, in real life, you might not be. But the performances are what put it over the top. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore are amazing, as is JGL. But I have to give serious props to Tony Danza, as Jon’s father, Jon Sr. He was so good he felt born to the part, and it was great to see him on the big screen (and also sitting two seats behind me at the screening!). And finally Brie Larson as Jon’s sister, who seemed to have been successfully channeling Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob throughout the entire film. She says not a word in any of her scenes, though she’s present in quite a few, and then BAM, the second she opens her mouth she utters the wisest, most insightful lines in the entire film. To which the audience couldn’t help but give thunderous applause.
So yeah, go see this film. Relativity Media has picked up the film and should be releasing it sometime this summer, though no firm date has been released as of yet. But keep your eyes open for it, cuz it’s really good!
There’s no trailer up for it either, but here’s a little feature of JGL talking about it:
The final film of the fest for me was much more personal. Partly because it was shot here in Austin, but also because some of my new friend’s are in it. Good Night is about a dinner party, thrown by Leigh and her husband Winston on her birthday. They get their closest friends together, get them a little drunk, and tell them that Leigh’s bone marrow transplant didn’t take. What follows is a night of emotional ups and downs, confessions, and indulgences as this group of people pretend the are still in their early twenties and have yet to make choices that lock them into their lives. They’re looking for that magic they used to have before life got in the way, and somehow they seem to find it.
Woven into the story of friendship is the story of how two lives are being destroyed not just by a disease but by the health care system. It shows the emotional turmoil of Leigh and Winston as they attempt to deal with their HMO’s refusal to cover the one treatment that could save her life. Jonny Mars (Winston) and Adriene Mishler (Leigh) convey both the pain and the joy of their characters in equal measure, making sure the film never falls too far into despair, while not making light of a real truth… that we all die and sometimes it’s really really unfair.
The hardest moments are handled delicately and don’t hit too hard. I felt those moments of breath, meant to alleviate the emotional impact of the more serious scenes, also served to let those scenes sink in further. In the end I was brought to tears, but only after I had a lot of time to laugh with characters I could seriously relate to. Kudos to writer/director Sean Gallagher for handling such a topic so elegantly. I can’t wait to see more work from him.
Here’s the trailer: