Years ago, a neighbor friend had a problem; he was obsessed with porn and female nudity. The obsession was so strong it actually got in the way of his relationship with his fiancée, resulting, as expected to all who knew him, with a split. It wasn’t that his fiancée was upset by his viewing habits; the issue was one of expectations. The fiancée could never live up to the fantasy. This unhealthy and totally unrealistic approach to relationships in general is exactly what Joseph-Gordon-Levitt has tapped in to with his new comedy/drama Don Jon. In fact, you’d swear Gordon-Levitt must have known my neighbor.
Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a nice enough guy from New Jersey. As he tells us in an introductory voice-over, there are a few things in life he really cares about. “My body, my pad, my family, my church, my boys, my girls and my porn.” And not necessarily in that order. Then, while sizing up the women in a local nightclub and giving them marks out of ten, he spies Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) in the crowd, and immediately gives her full marks. “Oh, she’s a dime,” he tells his buddies.
Barbara turns out to be a little different from his usual conquests. For one thing, as soon as he tries to kiss her in the nightclub, she pushes him away. “What makes you think you can do that?” she demands. Presumably, Jon is not used to this kind of rejection, but instead of backing off he meets the challenge and continues to chase her. The problem is, no matter how close the relationship between them develops, Jon always reverts back to his laptop. “It’s not like I can’t stop,” he tells himself. “I don’t wanna.”
Both Johansson and Gordon-Levitt are utterly convincing as the mismatched pair of lovers whose characters both have their own problematic agendas. Jon and Barbara are such products of their area and culture as illustrated in their movements, their clothes and their language, you’d swear they were the real thing. The real problem throughout, however, is the base subject. Any film that deals with the issue of porn, even one such as Don Jon where the damaging aspects of the adult movie industry are intelligently explored, can’t help but come across as unsavory. There’s an unpleasant atmosphere lingering over everything like a dark cloud that refuses to disperse, plus the film doesn’t shy away from giving us glimpses of the pictures and videos that Jon continually signs into throughout his day, every day.
What keeps you watching, however, is the humor of the characters, the truth behind much of what they’re saying and the introduction of a third party into the proceedings. Julianne Moore plays Esther, the older woman who Jon meets at night school, and she also has relationship issues, but they’re of a different kind as the story will eventually reveal. When Jon tells Esther what porn means to him and how his indulgence allows him to ‘lose himself’ she responds by telling him that in a real relationship, “You have to lose yourself in another person, and she has to lose herself in you.” She then adds, “It’s a two-way thing.” When it comes to sex, thinking of the other party is something that has never occurred to Jon. To him, watching others on the screen is what it’s all about. “They’re not pretending,” he says, referring to the video performers. “Of course, they are,” Esther replies, amused that Jon would actually think otherwise. Jon pauses for thought, perhaps for the first time.
The film ends on an abrupt and a surprisingly old-fashioned and upbeat note, which some may find a little too conveniently upbeat given how well the damaging aspects of Jon’s viewing habits are covered, but in its favor, there’s no padding. It ends as quickly as it does because there’s no more story to tell. In addition to starring as the lead, Gordon-Levitt both wrote and directed Don Jon, his directorial debut, and it is an assured and well-crafted piece of work undoubtedly paving the way for more to come.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)