Insightful Coming-of-Age Journey
Don Jon, which represents Joseph Gordon-Levittís directorial and screenwriting debut, is not a message movie, but it does have a message. The idea behind the film, which has been buzzing around in the actorís head for years, is an earnest but highly entertaining look at sex, intimacy, love, and how the idealized portrayals of men and women often get in the way of human relationships. Gordon-Levitt makes a fairly convincing case, one that compares our consumption of mass media -- via commercials, the internet, and even family-rated TV shows -- to pornography.
Sounds heavy, but itís not. Itís rather lighthearted and quite funny, in fact. And despite the trailers youíve seen peddling it as a movie about masturbation and pornography addiction, itís not that either. Well, Ok, Joseph Gordon Levittís character, Jon IS addicted to pornography and DOES get greater satisfaction from masturbation than he does from real sex, but thereís more to it than that. Don Jon is really an insightful cautionary tale about a young manís unexpected growth and maturity as he learns to forego the objectification of women in favor of true intimacy. So, itís not a movie about pornography and masturbation, but rather a coming-of-age tale told through the lens of pornography.
As the film opens, we learn by way of voiceover that Jon achieves sexual arousal by simply hearing the start-up chime of his Mac. Besides building his body, cleaning his apartment, and going to church, porn is a staple of his life. Heís a strong, handsome, good old- fashioned guy teasingly called ďDon JonĒ by his bar buddies because of his ability to take home a different woman every weekend. But none of the women he brings home compares to the bliss he experiences while slipping out from under her arm to masturbate to pornography on his computer. That is, until he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson).
Rated a 10 by Jon and his buddies when sheís first spotted standing at the bar in their favorite joint, Barbara is the kind of girl Jon thinks he wants to bring home to his mother and perhaps eventually settle down with. Sheís a good old-fashioned Catholic girl, but rather than a porn addiction, Barbara gets distracted by fantasies of her own. Drop-dead gorgeous and by no means a prude, Barbara has her own unattainable fairy-tale ideas of what the perfect relationship should look like, formed mostly by watching Hollywood romantic comedies. It doesnít take long for Barbara to discover Jonís dirty browser history and to summarily kick him to the curb.
Most of the film deals with Jon and Barbaraís highly captivating relationship. Itís almost impossible not to be stricken by Johanssonís smoldering sex appeal. Topped with a slightly loutish Jersey girl attitude, her Barbara appears completely absorbed in what she thinks sheís entitled to, and will stop nowhere short of making Jon change so she can get it.
But a leopard canít change its spots, so enter Esther (Julianne Moore) an older fellow student in Jonís night school class who catches Jon watching porno videos at the back of class, this time on his cell phone. Sheís far more open and less traditional than Barbara and quickly seizes the awkward opportunity to introduce Jon to an entirely new way of thinking about women, love and intimacy. A door is opened that takes Jon on a journey of unexpected growth and maturity.
Moore is good as the free-spirited sexpot harkening back to her career-making role in Boogie Nights, and Tony Danza nearly steals the show as Jonís foul-mouthed working-class father whose obsession with televised sports mirrors his sonís addiction to porn. Theyíre all surrounded by a gaggle of mostly stereotyped characters who are nonetheless highly endearing in their own unique ways.
Gordon-Levitt deserves high praise for taking on this hot-button subject and presenting it in such an entertaining fashion. Heís demonstrated great promise here with an astute understanding of all the things that make for an engaging movie. His pacing seems airy and brisk; his characters are never dull; he has something important to say; and he knows how to say it.
(Released by Relativity Media and rated ďRĒ for strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity, language and some drug use.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.