Don Jon is an oddball debut by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a film centering on a womanizer addicted to Internet porn. New Jersey-born Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is dedicated to many things in life: his family, his friends, his workouts, his church, and his computer’s sex-filled Internet. He’s stuck in a cycle that seemingly keeps him content, but we know behind that facade lies a man yearning for some emotional connection. Then he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful, flirty girl that plays hard to get, but ultimately falls for Jon. They go almost a month without having sex, which is shocking for Jon, but he likes her; when they do have sex, she finds him watching porn shortly after. He plays it off as a joke, saying it was in an email he got from a friend, and he thinks it’s disgusting. Little does she know he masturbates multiple times a day, having unrealistic expectations for sex.
Here’s a film that contains the most sex I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film. The film opens with sexually promiscuous images in between credits, followed by a title screen and Jon’s forays into porn. The movie consistently shows porn scenes and stars, giving us everything but…the actual porn, I suppose. Yet Gordon-Levitt ensures that we constantly see Jon’s infatuation with sex and this strange notion of what he deems a sexual reality, and what presumably tears apart his own love life. His direction is often repetitive, giving us scenes with his family (headed by Tony Danza’s wonderfully guido-like patriarch), his gym, and his church, all playing out in the same manner. The stylistic choices remind me of this spring’s Spring Breakers, which used that to repeated effect until the changes near the end of the film.
And that’s where Don Jon works. Up until the film’s final 15 minutes, the movie’s seemingly imbalanced and unsure of its direction, but the changes we see in Jon feel well-earned and even heartfelt. That’s a bit of magic on Gordon-Levitt’s front, since he’s pretty good in the lead but even better at making that arch, however obvious and simple, believable. Johansson has a tricky role, but she’s terrifically unpredictable with a girl that likes control in her relationships, leading to tensions with Jon. It’s only through a class that Barbara forces Jon to take that we see the film’s defining mark: Julianne Moore’s Esther, an older woman who seems emotionally on edge but gives Jon the guidance he needs. This becomes a sweet, lovely film when all’s said and done, but we have to sift through a lot of filth to find it.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)