PARK CITY, Utah After a remarkable run with leading roles in films such as "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Inception," actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt stepped behind the camera to direct "Don Jon's Addiction," a raunchy comedy that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
"Don Jon's Addiction," which Gordon-Levitt also wrote and stars in, leads a slate of films about sex on this year's Sundance roster.
The film follows the story of Jon, a handsome young man who is unable to maintain a relationship, due to his addiction to pornography.
When Jon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful but high-maintenance woman obsessed with Hollywood romantic comedies, and Esther (Julianne Moore), an emotionally fragile widow, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Gordon-Levitt, 31, a former child star who has risen through the ranks of television and independent film to become one of Hollywood's most bankable actors, said he thought it would be "hilarious" to pair a porn addict with a woman addicted to romance films.
"I wanted to tell a love story, and in my observations, what gets in the way of love most the time is how people objectify each other," the actor told Reuters on Saturday.
While the story uses pornography as a device, Gordon-Levitt emphasized it was not meant as a commentary on porn addiction.
"I wasn't really focused on porn or porn addiction. It was really, to me, more of a metaphor," he said. "It is astonishing how prevalent it is in our culture today."
Moore said the story reflected what is happening in modern society and culture.
"Both (characters) create expectations that people can't authentically meet in a relationship," Moore said. "We have so much of that in our lives right now in the world, with all the media influences, so people are growing up with this expectation that this is how you have a relationship."
"Don Jon" and other festival films such as "The Look of Love," "Lovelace," "kink" and "Interior. Leather Bar," explore the ways sex affects individuals and their ability to form relationships.
Actor Tony Danza, who worked with Gordon-Levitt in the 1994 film "Angels in the Outfield" and plays his father in "Don Jon," said the film would spark conversation.
"It's just an uncomfortable subject, which lights everyone's fire," Danza said. "It exposes human nature, albeit with a sometimes uncomfortable subject. But he exposes a real slice of human nature, and it's really prevalent right now."
MODERN DAY DON JUAN
Gordon-Levitt, who founded the HitRECord project that brings together an online community of creative artists, said he found inspiration for "Don Jon's" humour on social media platforms.
"If you go on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and you look at the humour on there, you might call it smutty, you might call it raunchy, but there's also a sort of honesty to it," he said.
Gordon-Levitt said he set out to shake up assumptions about porn addiction by playing his character "Jon" against type. Instead of playing a socially awkward guy who turns to porn because he cannot connect with women, "Jon" is a buff lothario. While he has plenty of female companions, Jon's porn addiction warps his views and expectations of women and sabotages his relationships.
Jon is portrayed as an Italian-American, but Gordon-Levitt said the "archetype is beyond ethnicity."
"I thought, 'who is the current-day Don Juan,' and the first thing I thought of was that guy with too much gel in his hair and a gym body ... I loved it instantly and thought it would be so funny to play that part."
Gordon-Levitt said he hoped audiences come away from the film "wanting to engage with each other."
"I would hope people ... examine each other as unique individuals as opposed to items on a checklist, and I hope they have a great time and laugh," he said. "And I hope they go home and have transcendent sex."
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)