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“Don Jon” and “Enough Said” Both Deliver Smart Takes on Romance

September 30, 2013

By John Corrado

Don Jon PosterJoseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most likeable young actors currently working, having already proven himself in multiple different roles.  With Don Jon, he proves that he is equally capable as both a writer and director, delivering a solid debut feature that premiered at TIFF and I already look forward to watching again.

Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spends his days addicted to porn, and weekends at the club picking up women.  Every Sunday, he goes to church and joins his Italian parents (a scene stealing Tony Danza and Glenne Headly) and constantly texting sister (Brie Larson) for a traditional late afternoon dinner.  But things change when he meets the “perfect dime” Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first woman who sees him as relationship material, and she convinces him to join a night school where he meets the sensitive Esther (Julianne Moore).

I thoroughly enjoyed Don Jon and am highly recommending the film for mature audiences.  The edgy screenplay is ripe with quickly paced dialogue and offers some sharp insight into modern relationships.  At the start of the film, Jon prefers the immediately personal rush he gets from internet porn to the experience of actual sex.  He has lost the ability to truly lose himself in another person, but there is still something likeable beneath the slick surface.  This imbalance is hilariously exemplified by how Jon incites road rage every Sunday so that he can get to church on time, where he dutifully attends confession and recites the prayers he is given as absolution while working out at the gym.

This is matched by Barbara, who views romantic comedies as a template for how she wants relationships to go in real life.  Both are addicted to equally manufactured ideas of how men and women are supposed to interact.  This is a film that actually has some provocative things to say about how many people use each other in relationships, not just for sex but also to carry out their own dreams, regardless of what the other person really wants.  Jon is using Barbara for her hot body, where she is using him to try and carry out her fantasies of a stereotypical union.  Barbara clearly envisions herself getting married and starting a family, something that Jon doesn’t want and certainly isn’t ready for right now.

What makes the message of Don Jon so refreshingly unique, is that the screenplay doesn’t expect the title character to want these things, where some movies would make it the ultimate goal.  Jon’s redemption has to come in a way that works for him, and the film becomes something different and more tender in the last act, a transition that worked beautifully for me.  These themes are all brought to the screen with appealing stylistic flourishes, including a perfectly timed spritz of window cleaner against a mirror.  With confident work from Joseph Gordon-Levitt both in front of and behind the camera, as well as strong supporting roles from Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, Don Jon is an entertaining and fun film that reaches a touching conclusion.

Emough Said PosterThe other smart romance that opened over the weekend after premiering at TIFF was Enough Said, also a strong example of a film that is much more intelligent than this genre usually allows.  Where Don Jon is about trying to manufacture a relationship to match your fantasy, Enough Said is about using all of the information you can get to try and avoid repeating past mistakes.

The divorced Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the charming Albert (James Gandolfini) first meet at a party, and the two find themselves falling for each other.  But then she learns that her new friend and latest massage client Marianne (Catherine Keener) is actually his ex-wife, and she struggles to keep their relationship going as she constantly hears why his first marriage broke up.

Both films serve very different markets, but they also go well together as smartly written and highly entertaining looks at romance that play up the ideas of their genre.  Director Nicole Holofcenar has a gift for writing observational comedy mixed in with equally affecting quieter moments between the characters, and Enough Said is a fine showcase for her talents, including an amusingly awkward first date.  The cast does a good job making the screenplay feel natural as the late James Gandolfini lights up the screen in one of his final roles, providing a bittersweet quality to many of his scenes.  This is an enjoyable and nicely written romantic comedy, that is particularly worth seeing for another wonderful performance from James Gandolfini.

These are two films that on the surface couldn’t be more different, one a laid back dramedy focusing mainly on middle aged characters, the other a fast paced look at modern culture clearly marketed towards the young adult demographic.  But the one thing that Don Jon and Enough Said have in common besides being highly recommended is that they both deliver smart takes on romance, with nuanced characters that challenge our perceptions of how real life relationships are supposed to unfold.

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