Don Jon, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his directorial debut, is about a young New Jersey man, presumably in this late 20’s or early 30’s, who has an addiction. When he’s not feeding this addiction, life for Jon revolves around a routine that involves his gym, his church, his family, his friends, his apartment, and his girls. By his girls, I am referring to the different women he picks up at clubs every week, earning him the title “Don Jon” by his friends. Even though he has the ability to get a girl in bed on a regular basis, there is still something missing about that interaction. What’s missing is the feeling he gets when he delves into the fantasy world hidden in his Macbook, where everything seems so perfect, and girls seem so attractive and willing to do anything.
That addiction, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is porn.
He feeds his addiction 20 to 30 times a week, confessing the amount to his priest every Sunday. He doesn’t choose porn over real sex, but he sure does prefer it. However, one night he has an idea that maybe he should give a real relationship a try, so he asks out Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson, a girl he tried to pick up one night at a club. Will things work out between them, or will he leave her to go back to Pornhub and his hand?
Filled with snappy dialogue and a barrage of quick cuts and montages (of, you guessed it, porn), the film flies at a breakneck pace, but still manages to maintain a naturalistic feel. Think of it as (500) Days of Summer with an edge. Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the script, says his lines in a heavy Jersey-esque accent, while portraying his character with the same charm that made his roles in movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and (500) Days of Summer so unforgettable. Even though he’s a gym-loving, lady-killing, rageaholic guido this time around, he’s still Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Johansson plays the romantic movie-loving Barbara perfectly. That doesn’t necessarily mean she is likeable. Johansson gives her character a clear sense of who she is in every scene, whether it be a sweet, sassy bombshell or a control freak with zero empathy. Barbara’s affection for romantic movies irritates Jon, who thinks those films feature an unrealistic fantasy designed to give the viewer momentary pleasure. Does that sound familiar?
This causes debate for them, and challenges the audience, asking what forms of fantasy are morally acceptable, and what an addiction really is. A lot of questions are asked through the subtext, like when is a relationship, or someone’s pleasure, considered one-sided? How thin is the line between fiction and reality, and at what point is one considered cut off from the latter?
The film even challenges social norms through Julianne Moore’s character, Esther, who asks Jon why real sex doesn’t satisfy him as much as porn. She even encourages him to watch some foreign, “healthier” porn. Esther is a nearly broken woman, who you can’t help but empathize with, thanks to Moore’s sympathetic performance. It will be interesting watching her go the other direction in her performance of Margaret White in next month’s Carrie.
Overall, Don Jon is a fast-paced comedy with enough wit and charm to win your heart. One thing you’ll have to forgive, though, is that (spoiler alert) the ending is bad, and just feels like the movie decided to cut off. Other than that, Gordon-Levitt makes a great debut as both writer and director. If he ever decides to continue being behind the camera in movies, I look forward to watching his work develop.