Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made a remarkably assured debut as writer/director, putting him in the front ranks of today’s filmmakers. Gordon-Levitt also plays the lead role, Jon, a New Jersey guy with a high and tight haircut and a spare and immaculate apartment decorated in gray and black. He reels off the list of things he cares about: his body (for working out), his car (for driving and looking cool), his boys (friends), his girls (for sex), his church (for confession), his family (for Sunday dinners), and porn (you know what that is for). Those are the parameters of his life, and that seems fine to him because he knows who he is and how things fit together. The title is a reference to the legendary libertine who symbolizes all men who seduce many women without forming any attachments to them.
Jon and his friends like to go to the club and rank the ladies, an endlessly fascinating conversation about various body parts and the optimal shapes and proportions of each. Sex with those ladies is primarily a contest between the men, and Jon is by far the leader. His success with nines and “dimes” (a ten) is about status and competition, and he tells us that he prefers pornography to sex with real girls. One night, Jon sees a solid dime named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). For the first time, he becomes involved with a woman who is more than a one-night stand and he has to earn her affection. She has her own ideas of what a “dime” equivalent looks like, and he finds himself going to romantic comedy movies and taking a community college class. He even brings her home to meet his family, where she gets a very enthusiastic response from his parents (a wonderful Glenne Headley and Tony Danza).
And then things get more complicated. Gordon-Levitt has crafted a whip-smart, richly cinematic film with some very funny moments and a lot of heart. He makes it clear that Jon is not the only one who is numbing his feelings. His father is more absorbed in watching the football games than in talking to his family and Barbara’s aspirations are almost as based on fantasy as the images Jon connects to online. Watch how the settings help tell the story, and style of the movie changes as Jon goes from the techno-pumping macho world of his friends to the more romantic, orchestral environment of dating. And then it shifts again as other changes happen. Keep an eye on Jon’s sister, played by the superb Brie Larson (“The Spectacular Now,” “Short Term 12”), who appears to be as addicted to her devices as Jon, never saying a word to her family as she stares into her phone, texting back and forth. She will make it clear that she has been more connected to what is going on with the people she loves than anyone else in the film. And Julianne Moore gives an earthy but sensitive performance as a classmate of Jon’s who surprises and disconcerts him with her honesty.
Seeing Jon begin to learn to interact with the world with feelings, not just sensations, is a pleasure. But seeing one of today’s best young actors bloom into one of tomorrow’s best young filmmakers is even greater.
Parents should know that this movie is about a young man who is addicted to pornography. It includes very explicit sexual references and situations, nudity, very strong and crude language, drinking, and drugs.
Family discussion: How did other characters aside from Jon find ways to avoid their feelings? How did Joseph Gordon-Levitt use different film-making styles to show the different moods of his time with his friends, with Barbara, and with Esther?
If you like this, try: “Thanks for Sharing” and some of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s other films like “Brick” and “Mysterious Skin”