“I don’t watch too many movies. The pretty woman, the pretty man, the first kiss, the break up, the make up, they drive off into the sunset. Everyone knows it’s fake, but they watch it like it’s real life.”
In his directorial debut, Joseph Gordon-Levitt sets out to prove that porn and romantic comedies are equally damaging to real life relationships. Men watch porn and are disappointed when sex doesn’t live up to the fantasy playing out on their laptops. Women watch romantic comedies expecting men to behave like one-dimensional characters who always put them first and sweep them off their feet.
Gordon-Levitt plays the titular character, Jon, a guido meathead obsessed with working out and porn who also attends church every Sunday with his very Italian family. He’s on a streak of bringing home girls (rated 8 and above) home when he goes out with his boys, but he still prefers porn to real sex. He can “lose himself” in porn in a way that he can’t in sex.
This way of life meets resistance when he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), “a dime” who won’t give it up the first night they meet in a bar. Of course, Jon is the type of guy who wants what he can’t have, and Barbara uses his desire for sex to manipulate him into meeting her friends and family, letting her meet his, getting him to take a community college class, and watching a lot of romantic comedies while cuddling.
Jon thinks he’s falling in love with Barbara, and that sex with her will be different (i.e. better than porn). But when she finally gives it up, he feels the itch to pull out his laptop again. Even though Barbara is the hottest girl he’s ever been with and he cares about her, doing her still isn’t better than watching porn.
Making this movie far more interesting than it was is Julianne Moore, who plays Esther, a woman in Jon’s community college class coming off a personal tragedy. Rather than judge his porn habit, she approaching him with humor and honesty, something he’s not quite used to.
Don Jon is a film that’s in your face about its subject matter. The repeating visuals of R-rated pornography can be hard to take. It’s uncomfortably honest, not unlike Moore’s character. Jon and Barbara may be caricatures of a certain culture, but the question of what sort of expectations media (whether it’s movies or porn or commercials) feed into our relationships is valid and relevant to everyone.
All the performances in this movie are wonderful. Gordon-Levitt totally disappears into his role, Johansson is fantastically unbearable as Barbara, and Moore steals every scene she’s in. Tony Danza is also a bright spot as Jon Senior, shedding some light as to where our protagonist got his values from.
I will say that what I enjoyed most was the fulfilling ending. Played maybe a little too quickly, the resolution of Don Jon rejects the fantasy ending. It feels especially good considering that the middle flounders a bit–Gordon-Levitt maybe got too interested in repeating his themes. Still, this is a movie that makes you think about what goes into a relationship–both in the bedroom and outside of it.
Quite a showing for JGL’s first time at bat.