Written and directed by star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon is a romantic comedy presented from the male perspective that’s likely to appeal more to men than women. A film about how a man loves porn more than the woman he’s with is certainly a tricky topic for a date movie (while making certain aspersions to the emotional porn of romcoms and Catholicism along the way), but Gordon-Levitt manages to pull off the intriguing premise even if it looses steam when the film takes its inevitable dramatic turn.
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) really only cares about a handful of things in his life: his friends, his car, his apartment, his religion, and, even more than the bevy of beauties the man takes home every night, his porn. And he really takes his porn seriously. You might even go so far as to call Jon a porn connoisseur. Even when he begins dating the stunning Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Jon is incapable at letting go of his true love which is always presented in a series of quick-cuts featuring the sound his Mac powering and various porn clips before the inevitable shot of a wad of Kleenex hitting the trash can.
Although there’s quite a bit of sexual humor, and porn, throughout the film I wouldn’t classify Don Jon as a crude film as much as a honest one. The jokes about Barbara serial-dry-humping our protagonist or the wads of Kleenex aren’t meant to be gross or shocking but instead are used to revel in the absurdity of Jon’s dating practices.
Even before meeting Barbara, the film follows a basic cyclical pattern of Jon’s life that rarely varies from clubbing with his best friends (Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke), having lots of sex, jerking off to porn, attending church with his father (Tony Danza), mother (Glenne Headly), and sister (Brie Larson) followed by a trip to the confessional and Sunday dinner, and working out in the gym. At Barbara’s assistance, Jon adds a night class to his schedule to become more reputable for her.
Of the supporting performances Danza is the standout. He’s perfectly cast as the older version of Jon, Jr. whose obsessions may be different than that of his son’s but whose example the Jon certainly emulates. The sequence where he meets Barbara for the first time is particularly funny as the randy old devil obviously envies his son. Larson steals a nice scene of her own as the Silent Bob character who remains silent throughout, constantly texting, to speak up only to offer her brother support and advice at just the right moment.
Certainly presented from a male perspective, the script has quite a bit to say about sex, relationships, and the lies we tell ourselves and our romantic partners. The introduction of Julianne Moore as another student in Jon’s night class is problematic for several reasons including all too precious meet-cute and the heavy foreshadowing of what this character’s injection into the story means for both our main character and the plot of the film. Don’t get me wrong, Moore is well-cast in yet another role that offers her chances a multiple on-screen breakdowns, but her storyline forces Don Jon into a much more predictable mainstream arc that, until that point, the film had done its best job to avoid.
For his first time writing and directing a feature film, Gordon-Levitt proves capable although the cyclical nature of the story makes it far too easy for him to fall back on the same jokes, montages, and series of events that the film eventually begins to suffer. The use of Jon’s narration helps keep the film rolling, especially during his dry commentary on the negatives of sex compared to porn. The dramatic turn the story takes I’m sure is meant to help this trend of diminishing returns but it’s only partially successful.
Don Jon isn’t a film for everyone, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a first date movie (or, given your significant other’s tolerance for male humor, any kind of date movie). I would be curious to see what got cut to get the MPAA to agree to the film’s R-Rating and what an NC-17 version of the movie might have looked like. Although I think the film suffers from offering a moral arc at the end of the story to save Jon from a life of masturbating to porn, which he seems to quite enjoy, Don Jon is engaging and often quite funny with a voice and style that hearkens back to several filmmakers but is delivered in Gordon-Levitt’s own.