Don Jon gets it on
Raw portrayal reveals sexual torment
By Tim Pompey 10/03/2013
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson,
Rated R for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use.
1 hr. 30 min.
There are several things you need to know about this movie up front.
First, it’s a very graphic film about a man’s struggle with sex and pornography. I don’t know how it avoided an NC-17 rating, but someone definitely split straws in the decision to classify this film as R.
Second, Don Jon is not a comedy as the film’s marketing campaign seems to suggest. It has amusing moments, but the subject matter is treated dramatically and digs deep into the roots of sexual obsession.
Finally, while it does explore a man’s struggle with sex, both real and imagined, the irony is that the centers of attention and the strongest characters in this film are women. That means that if you’re thinking this is just another male macho fantasy, think again.
That being said, you have to admire director and writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s risky decision to make Don Jon his feature debut. Then again, Gordon-Levitt has avoided taking the easy path in most of his movie choices. Films like Brick and Looper show his ability to be both daring and adept.
Don Jon is another interesting fork in the road. As macho male Jon Martello, he loves weightlifting, cleaning his apartment, driving his car, going to confession, eating dinner with his family, and women.
But there’s a problem in his life. He’s OK with sex, but he loves porn, a fact made more obvious when he hooks up with knockout Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johannson), whom he hits on in a bar. A hot 10 on his rating system, Jon must soon make some serious adjustments to his lifestyle to adapt to her surprisingly traditional view of romance.
Despite her vavoom body and sexual teasing, he can’t escape his need for porn. When she catches him, he makes a sincere promise to stay off the stuff. But can he keep that promise? No, but he sure tries to snow her, and therein lies the problem. Can Jon actually be honest with a woman? Can he be honest with himself?
While Don Jon may appear at first to be about stereotypical male bravado, Gordon-Levitt lays the groundwork for a story that looks beneath the surface and brings to light a more complex character: his relationship with his volatile father, Jon Sr. (Tony Danza); his ability to compartmentalize his life (a road rage driver, a devout Catholic, a serious OCD need for cleanliness); and most importantly, his lack of understanding of the nature of love and sex.
Gordon-Levitt skillfully uses fellow classmate Esther (Julianne Moore) to poke underneath that surface and reveal a more complex man whose search for the perfect porn clip is really a cry for emotional rescue.
Gordon-Levitt doesn’t shy away from the brutal and sometimes funny attempts by Jon to prop up his hard-earned reputation as the Don. He uses his considerable acting talent to bring Jon to life, and his writing is insightful enough to keep the viewer engaged.
If you’re willing to step into this testosterone world and let the story play out, you may be surprised by a truthful and emotionally intense portrait of a man consumed by his own fantasies. It’s not pretty, but it does reveal how sex and passion in a man’s life really are deeper than his libido.