Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Romantic Comedy for an Unromantic Age

Tony Danza and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in their father-and-son wife beaters.

By Dan Hagen
“Pillow Talk” was the romantic comedy perfectly suited to its year, 1959, which means it’s extremely dated now. But the romantic comedy “Don Jon,” as 2013 as a text message, is just as funny as the Doris Day vehicle ever was, and has a bit more heart.
Instead of a smartly dressed Manhattanite on a party line, we get a lower-class bartender on porn. The veneer of sophistication is replaced by a veneer of crudity because, as you may have noticed, our times are crude. But there’s humor beneath the vulgarity, and humanity beneath the humor.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred, and every smart trick he learned in a Hollywood childhood is up there on the screen. He knows that one secret to a great screen joke is to startle the audience with its truth.
He plays a self-contained young man whose self-imposed limitations power his self-satisfied Jimmy Cagney strut. He has just eight interests, no more — his body (muscled), his car (muscle), his buddies (beer), his family (Italian-American), his church (Catholic), his girls (many) and his apartment (clean, thanks to his quirky Felix Unger fervor). And, of course, his on-line pornography (addictive).
Secretly, he prefers the perfection of porn to the girls he beds, until someone even more perfect crosses his path and upsets his balance. Falling fast and hard for a woman who looks like Scarlett Johannson (because she is) and sounds like Fran Drescher, he learns that perfection comes with its own set of demands.
Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, knows how to make perfect use of the elements at his disposal, which include Johannson, Glenne Headley, Tony Danza, Julianne Moore and the satiric possibilities of ritual. He swiftly and hilariously skewers the ritualized silliness of dance club pickups, of the way guys yell in cars and even (play within a play) of romantic comedy films (Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum pitch in with cameos there). This is the best kind of comedy, the kind that hits so close to home that the audience is sometimes momentarily too startled to laugh.
Finally, Gordon-Levitt’s character will need to exceed his limitations, and to do that he’ll have to heed the voice of wisdom, which comes from an unexpected quarter.
This movie is a daybreaker (so good it breaks your day cleanly into halves, before and after). It’s the best film I’ve seen in the last 10 months.

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