Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Don Jon. He loves his pad, his car, his boys, his girls, his family, his God, and his porn. Probably his porn more than anything else.
In this matter-of-fact look at porn addiction, and Gordon-Levitt‘s writer/directorial debut, we meet Jon – a lost soul whose only satisfaction in life comes from masturbating twenty times a week to online porn. A passing mention suggests Jon works as a bartender, although the only thing we see him doing is hanging out with his friends in a club, objectifying and rating women from 1-10. That, and working out before having some “alone time” in his flat.
On the surface, he’s not the most likeable guy. With a short temper, a colourful vocabulary of curses, and a personal mission to conquer the best-looking girl in the club before dismissing them as being inadequate in bed, his ambitions are limited. As long as he has his porn, he’s happy. Or at least, he thinks he is.
But then again, this is a film about surfaces. The superficiality of Jon’s life isn’t incidental – it’s highlighted by a number of recurring sequences in a Catholic church and empty, meaningless sex scenes. With slicked-back hair and V-necks so deep they’re basically subterranean, Jon is a walking cliché who seems almost a parody of himself. Yet despite the swagger and the bravado, we can see he’s simply a lonely man who is not at all happy with his life.
Scarlett Johansson plays Jon’s target-come-girlfriend, who throws off the caste of being just another piece of meat – and is responsible for Jon looking to change his ways and the way he approaches relationships.
Yet the main problem isn’t so much all the pre-marital sex Jon is having and constantly begging forgiveness for, but rather his apparent inability to understand or even notice what’s going on around him. He states how much he loves his family, yet every scene is a yell-a-thon with his equally despicable dad.
As such, Don Jon could easily be dismissed as a black and white, unoriginal observation of relationships and unrealistic expectations bred by his constant consumption of pornography. Yet Jon’s overly dismissive approach to losing a girlfriend before heading out to get laid with a bunch of nameless women is a thinly veiled disguise of his desperate search for satisfaction, rather than any meaningful lifestyle. Although Jon himself may on the surface have a one-track mind, the film carries an undertone of redemption and realisation that there’s more to sex than just pleasure. This is driven home by strong performances from all the cast, including Julianne Moore as an adult student who crosses paths with Jon at key moments of both their lives.
Despite the fairly depressing premise and Jon’s vacuous and repetitive life, the laughs come surprisingly frequently. Gordon-Levitt’s comic timing is great, and even his leery friends get a share of funny lines. The script is sharp, and Gordon-Levitt’s direction is a confident debut with a sparky flair that gives the whole thing a retro, 70s vibe.
Much like the eponymous main character, Don Jon isn’t as simple as it first seems. It approaches porn addiction in a light-hearted way radically different from the likes of say, Shame, but that isn’t to say it’s a bad thing. Even a movie about tremendous amounts of masturbation and porn can have its moments of poignancy, and Don Jon picks them very well.
After intelligent performances in the likes of Inception, 500 Days of Summer, and Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a filmmaker unafraid to make the film he wants to make. Don Jon doesn’t pretend to be what it is not; it does not try and change the world; but it is a promising start to what looks like a great directorial career for Gordon-Levitt.