My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.
The film begins with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Jersey-accented voice over as Jon Martello, a New Jersey bartender nicknamed Don Jon by his buddies for his ability to pull ’10s’ types of girls every weekend at the club. The film starts off with a glimpse of Jon’s daily life that’s mapped out with almost a military precision. Right away we know that Jon is an obsessive-compulsive, he wants everything JUST SO, from the way he washes his dishes, makes his bed every morning, his workout routine, all the way to how he consumes his ultimate obsession: porn.
Bedding even the most beautiful women in chronic one-night-stands just doesn’t cut it for Jon. Only porn can satisfy his erotic itch, prompting him to sneak up to his laptop in the middle of the night, even with his sex partner of the night still sleeping on his bed! Let’s just say that I’d never hear that ‘bong’ sound of a Mac boot-up the same way ever again. Gordon-Levitt films Jon’s daily routine is in full-on satire mode. Even with the crude sexual imagery projected on screen, however revolting they are, it’s never without a twinge of hilarity and heartbreak. It’s sad to see how a Jon’s practically drowning in his addiction and being further away from making a real human connection.
Then enters Barbara Sugarman, a voluptuous blond who’s exactly Jon’s type. It turns out Barbara is quite an elusive catch. He has to wait for sex for what may seemed like an eternity for such a Lothario. Soon Barbara has Jon wrapped in her well-manicured little finger in her hard-to-get seduction game. Initially it seems that perhaps Barbara would be the making of Jon, the way she pushes Jon to realize his potential by encouraging to go to night school. She is repulsed by Jon’s porn addiction which doesn’t suit her image of what a perfect man should be. Apparently men who do their own chores is also a big no-no, as at one point Barbara berates Jon for wanting to buy a mop. ‘When we move in together, don’t you ever do your own cleaning,’ she firmly declares.
Her ideal romance is the happy-ever-after kind she sees in rom-coms, which Jon despises. The scene where she drags Jon to see stereotypical chick flicks (featuring cameos by Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway and Cuba Gooding Jr.) is hilarious, but also very telling just how doomed this relationship is from the start. In the third act, we’re introduced to an older woman Esther (Julianne Moore) from Jon’s night class. Their encounters are amusing at first but there are some genuine drama and poignant touches as well.
Kudos for Gordon-Levitt for tackling a tricky subject matter with aplomb, even if it’s not as profound as he perhaps intended it to be. He doesn’t pull any punches with the porn imagery though, which was cut down from NC-17 to get a hard R rating. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this film if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. I’m glad I gave it a shot but it’s not something I’d likely want to see again. The foul language also makes my ear burn but I guess it comes with the nature of this character. But the ugly stuff is shown to make a point and I for one don’t find any of the vulgar scenes sexy at all. In fact, it has the opposite effect, it’s as repulsive as seeing people snorting heroin or injecting drugs into their veins. There’s a not-so-subtle jab against the Catholic Church as well, but I think it says more about the superficial life of the protagonist. His “faith” is more about fulfilling a set of ritual instead of a genuine spiritual relationship.
The 32-year-old actor assembles a great cast for his debut, starting with casting himself. He’s always been a consistently excellent actor, but he takes it up a few notches here in a bravura role. I’m glad he didn’t end up casting Tatum as he originally planned which would change the tone entirely I think. Not only is Gordon-Levitt’s newly-buff physique adds to the believability of the part, he’s also got the swagger to match whilst still maintain his likable charm. Scarlett Johansson looks the part as the sexy, gum-snapping starlet, complete with her perfect manicures, hoop earrings and Joisey accent. Apparently Gordon-Levitt wrote the part for her specifically and the two have quite a scorching chemistry. At times her Jersey girl portrayal is so over the top that it verges on caricature territory however, but I think the issue is more about how her character is written.
Another quibble I have is with Moore’s character, which could’ve been a bit more developed. A moment where she reveals about her past feels a bit rushed to me, which I think is a missed opportunity. The ending also feels a bit too neatly-placed and perhaps oversimplified. That said, Moore delivers quite an indelible performance as Esther, wise but vulnerable at the same time. Their scene towards the end conveys a crucial turning point for both her and Jon. It’s amusing to see Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s hot-headed dad, playing against type for those who know him as the sweet dad in Who’s the Boss. Brie Larson as Jon’s teenage sister doesn’t seem like she has much to do, but when she does, you’ll certainly take notice.
Final Thoughts: This is quite an impressive debut from Gordon-Levitt. There’s a certain style in the way he uses repetition to illustrate various point which I think is quite effective. The interesting camera work and use of sound and music in certain scenes are also worthy of note. It remains to be seen whether he’d be as good a filmmaker as he is an actor but his work here is certainly shows plenty of promise.
So what do you think of DON JON and/or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular?