Few moviegoers will leave “Don Jon” saying, “Wow that was so amazing. I want to buy it immediately when it comes out on DVD, so I can watch it again and again.” However, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut succeeds by offering a unique perspective, using humor and flashy editing to question the ways in which media affects the ways we think and treat others.
Meet Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He’s a good old fashioned “guido” who has his priorities all figured out. In a voiceover, Jon narrows the important things in life down to his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn. Oh, how he loves that porn. If you’re still having trouble picturing him, think Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino: only less irritating and more porn-loving.
Jon spends most evenings clubbing with his homeboys (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) and picking up the hottest, most curvaceous girls he can find. His process of getting a girl into bed with him is just as calculated and precise as his list of priorities.
However, these girls are never enough for Jon. Every night, after bedding the latest girl, Jon sneaks away to be with the true escape he finds in porn.
The routine is running smoothly until Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), the embodiment of everything Jon wants in a woman. In fact, he repeatedly tells his friends and family “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The key word is “thing,” because that’s all Barbara really is to Jon: an object. And even though it may seem completely unfathomable, Barbara somehow leaves Jon unsatisfied – he goes back to his laptop the minute he thinks she falls asleep.
That’s when Barbara walks in and flips.
But Barbara has her own vice, as well. For Jon, no amount of real sex can quite fulfill the ecstasy of his precious videos, but for Barbara, no man can quite fulfill her expectations of the men she sees in romance movies. She wants a man who will give up everything for her, change everything about himself and only partake in manly activities (which apparently does not include cleaning his apartment, especially with a Swiffer. What kind of a man uses a Swiffer? C’mon, Jon!)
With a movie like “Don Jon,” it can be very easy to get distracted by the taboo and frequently graphic subject matter. Jon’s addiction to porn is not a mere plot point, but a main part of the story. Gordon-Levitt makes this more than clear right from the beginning with the fast and borderline seizure-inducing clips of porn.
While this may seem extreme, Gordon-Levitt uses this technique to get his point across: Our media-obsessed culture causes us to objectify each other without even realizing it.
After all, how many times have you been on a date, constantly comparing your girl or guy to characters you love from movies or TV? In fact, you may have even compared potential dates to the actors and actresses from “Don Jon.” Is she really as sexy and mysterious as Scarlett Johansson in “Lost in Translation?” Is he really as charming and cute as Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “(500) Days of Summer?”
The film could never have been as entertaining and meaningful without the performances of such a stellar cast. Johansson stands out above the others, and it’s not just because of those unbearably tight dresses either. She is absolutely enthralling as the bubble-gum chewing, selfish, straight outta “Jersey Shore” Barbara. It’s safe to say that without Johansson, the movie could have fallen flat on its porn-obsessed head.
Although the film has its weak points (the ending is a bit conventional for such an out-of-the-box story), it deals with a sensitive topic in a very confident and approachable way.
Gordon-Levitt creates a protagonist we can identify with. Jon becomes hilariously relatable in a scene where he’s shown driving to church, blasting “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, singing along to every word. As he pulls up to a red light, the guys in the next car over are staring at him and Jon quickly pretends to look out the other window. Yeah, we’ve been there.
This humor is what saves the movie from becoming a dark, depressing character study about porn addiction. On the other hand, “Don Jon” is not one to see with your parents during your visit home, unless you feel especially comfortable watching porn with the padres.
Speakeasy Grade: A-
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza
Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue, nudity, language and some drug use