May 21, 2013
Joseph Gordon Levitt wrote, directed and stars in this funny and smart movie that succeeds in doing what many consider impossible: a romantic comedy that guys (and girls) will like. He is not the first to deliver a romantic comedy from the male point of view, since Judd Apatow paved the way with The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but he addresses the gender wars in a more blunt and raunchy way. You could say that Don Jon is Steve McQueen's Shame with yuks, since both movies deal with different manifestations of male sexual compulsion. Don Jon is specifically about a guy (Gordon Levitt, bravely channelling his inner Jersey Shore), who prefers internet porn to real pussy. The movie is brash and blunt about the depiction of women in internet porn and about this guy who can't stop jerking off to it. He and his friends rate women by their bodies and he scores plenty of women, but somehow does not get the same satisfaction that he does with his computer screen.
Enter Barbara Sugarman, the excellent Scarlett Johansson, letting rip her Jersey Princess inner self. Johansson's sensual beauty was made for the movies and she is unafraid to be sexy and funny. She is fantastic in this film. Jon thinks he is in love with Barbara. But she, like him, is a control freak, and she pussywhips him in no time. A world champion cockteaser, she has a goal, and that is to make husband material out of Jon. He is a total douche, but there is something vulnerable and appealing, ultimately sweet about him. In a way, he is an innocent. Innocent of real love, of meaningful sex, and so naive that he thinks that the porn he watches is real sex. The cast includes the great Tony Danza and Glenne Headly as Jon's parents and the droll Brie Larson as his sister in a deadpan tour de force. She has one line in the movie that managed to ellicit cheers from the audience. And Julianne Moore, who is as good at comedy as she is at drama. The plot has some nice twists, whereby Jon gets an education in sensitivity and the movie is generally delightful, with Gordon Levitt, expertly navigating some touchy subjects with great charm and poise, both as the screenwriter and as the director.
But Don Jon leaves lots to think about. Movies like this and Shame have explored the personal implications of the effects of porn on men. There is self-loathing yes, and an inability to relate to women. But nobody yet seems to be addressing the cultural and societal consequences of the ubiquitous accessibility of porn and the way it is shaping the way men relate to women. Many young men, and perhaps young women, since they can access porn as easily as men, expect real sexual behavior to be modelled on porn, which is obviously a grave mistake. The movie points this out in a light and romantic way. You make objects out of people, you can't really have a relationship with them.