Comedy / Films

Don Jon

There are certain things which have changed as the internet has grown. Social media platforms have altered the way people perceive others and portray themselves. News is now delivered through online word-of-mouth. Selfies, blogs and personal profiles have generated the generation of the ego. And porn has changed too. Porn has of course always been a big business, but it’s never been as accessible as it is now; with just a few clicks, people can go from their homepages to any sordid fantasy they desire. Porn in the new millennium, is extremely easy to find, watch, and engage with. As such, it’s becoming less of a taboo subject – but does raise questions relating to consumption, values, and generated sexual perceptions – questions which interest Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his directorial debut, Don Jon. Don Jon isn’t the first movie to look into pornography, but it’s one of the first to focus on it from an internet and addiction POV – Boogie Nights, the world’s most infamous porn movie, is more about drugs than sex and even then, it deals with an older form of the industry and its failure to adapt to the future. Don Jon is no Boogie Nights, but it is an interesting millennial movie with some valid points.don jonThe plot focuses on Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, starring as well as directing) a modern day, New Jersey Lothario interested in only a few things: his family, his friends, his church, his body, his car, his girls, and his porn. Whilst Jon is able to get just about any girl he wants, he’s of the belief that nothing in the real world compares to his pornographic virtual realities; the girls are not as attractive in real lfie, the sex not as wild, and it just doesn’t get him off in the same way. Then he meets local girl Barbara Sugarman (Johansson) and begins his first serious relationship – but can he cut out the porn in favour of the real thing? Julianne Moore turns up as a student classmate of Jon’s, and Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Brie Larson play Jon’s family. don jonJoseph Gordon-Levitt is a good director and Don Jon is a snappy and lean little movie, with great use of music, sound effects, and some energetic shots. The opening montage featuring shots of media-friendly sex symbols is a nice start which sets the tone of what’s to come, and there’s a fun playfulness to the movie. The use of Apple’s welcome chime as a turn on for Jon and audience signify draws a lot of laughs, and using the recycle bin beat as Jon drops his used tissue into the bin is cute. Editing is strong throughout and the movie has a great sense of timing. The film begins as a fairly harsh satire on modern living, sex in the media, and questions where the line lies between porn and say, television advertising – is one any better than the other? It’s nice to see a movie address modern day issues with pornography and the impact it’s had on male life, and nice too, to see a movie so unashamedly biased to the male POV – this is basically a boys rom-com and guys in the audience will get laughs; the girls maybe won’t enjoy it so much. The structure of clubbing, confession and masterbation goes some way to sum up the monotony of Jon’s life, though does get repetitive for the audience.donjon2The problem with Don Jon is that whilst it’s well directed and put together, it’s neither as smart or as funny as it thinks it is, and it really had to be one or the other. If it went too far in either direction – loads of laughs, or very clued up satire – it would have worked. Whilst there are some good jokes, most are cringe-worthy and the male focused, Jersey POV makes things very sexist indeed. The humour isn’t silly enough to justify this kind of rampant sexism; it’s too subdued so comes across as more mean-spirited than anything else. Had it been played broadly, it wouldn’t have seemed so cruel. The satire too unfortunately only skims the surface – there are some fantastic ideas, looking into porn, addiction, and the the presentation of sex in the media, but the film really just points these things out; it has nothing deeper to say about anything, and comes across a little flat and cold. Yes, American consumer culture is sexist. We knew that already. Yes porn presents unrealistic expectations of sex. We knew that already. In this respect, it’s a lot like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, in that the ideas are there, but they’re not as profound as they need to be, and spread out too-thinly to make an impact. The film’s most interesting idea – that women get off on rom-coms and the Hollywood ideals of romance, in the same way men do porn, is never explored in any further detail, which is a pity. The movie is full of under utilized glimmers of value like this, which means that Don Jon almost comes across as a first draft.donjon7And the movie contradicts itself. It mocks the sexualisation of women in the media, but presents Johansson’s character in exactly the same way. The satirical elements disappear completely towards the end and the movie turns into the sort of thing it was earlier happy to mock. And worse, for a sex-focused wanking comedy, it’s a little tame, to the point where it’s hard to judge where the 18 certificate came from. It seems a bit of a cheat to make a movie about this kind of subject matter but refuse to go all the way; as though the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too, and wants to cause a level of offensive without pushing the audience too far. It’s too easy.donjon4Don Jon however does possess an outstanding cast. Whilst it could be considered masterbatory for Levitt to cast himself in his own movie, it’s a move which works, as Levitt is fantastic as the leading man. He’s considerably broader – in all senses of the word – and it’s fun to see him play a stupider character; Levitt is crucially utterly charming, even with his New Jersey drawl, which is a real bonus – in lesser hands, Jon would have just come across as a dickhead. We feel for Jon, find his sordid quirks endearing, and want him to do ok, because despite everything, he does mean well. His change throughout the movie is of course, so predicable that you can spoil it yourself without seeing the film, but he does sell it well. Danza and Headly are great Jon’s bickering parents, shouting over the TV, and they get the movie’s funniest scenes. Alison Larson spends nearly all of her screentime texting (a good example of the movie’s style of satire – people spend so much time on their phones now! Very astute) but gets a nice moment near the end. Look out for Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway in a fun cameo too.donjon5The girls then. Scarlett Johansson is a mixed bag. On the one hand, her character is horrible. This is one of the most offensively unpleasant female love-interests in recent memory, and she’s written so broadly, to the point of barely functioning as a human. She’s a sex object. Then she’s an object. Then she’s a bitch. There’s a way to realistically show a girl at her most unpleasant without making her unbelievable (Levitt’s better rom-com, 5o0 Days of Summer, in which the girl’s ‘bitch’ personae is justified, makes sense, and doesn’t feel one-sided at all) but Don Jon doesn’t know how to do it. That said however, Johansson is amazing in the role – slutty, sensual, constantly chewing gum with a drawn out Jersey drawl, she’s aware she’s playing trash and runs with it, stealing all the scenes she’s in. A well acted, but terribly written character, so take what you want from that. On the flip side, Julianne Moore’s character is well-written (to the point you could argue that that writers deliberately tried to make Johansson seem nasty to over-sell Moore) and so sweet and fun; she’s the heart of the movie and holds the thing together near the end, showing a surprising level of depth. Moore of course is one of those go-to actresses for delivering a powerhouse performance with very little and she’s on top form here. The movie would fall apart without her and her and Levitt have nice chemistry. donjon3Don Jon isn’t a bad movie – it’s well made, and has some laughs and its heart is in the right place, but its satire is weak and it seems unsure what its trying to say. Is it anti-sexism or pro-sexism? Does it think porn is ok or a problem? The issues with Don Jon relate to it raising such points but never really addressing them, which makes the experience a little bit hollow. Still, it’s very well acted, and fans of Gordon-Levitt will love it. A little bit too tame for what it wants to be, Don Jon makes for an interesting couple of hours, but isn’t the sort of thing you’ll remember after the cinema. Here’s hoping to better directorial features from Levitt in future.



2 thoughts on “Don Jon

  1. I agree with pretty much all of this. A “first draft” is a good way to describe the screenplay. I’m hoping JGL’s next film builds on the potential he’s shown here.

    • Thanks Dave – there’s some good potentially and I don’t think its badly directed as such, just badly written and a bit sloppy. I did like the cast though!

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