Don Jon is one of those films that is entirely misrepresented in its advertising. Some ads make it out to be a light-hearted romantic comedy featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson as two good looking “lost souls swimming in the fishbowl” called New Jersey. Other trailers make it out to be a “guy” film, chock full of man-talk lingo and ample amounts to references to porn, partying, and ultimately scoring with the ladies. In reality, it’s all of the above.
Don Jon is the baby of Gordon-Levitt, who writes, directs, and stars. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, Jr., a bartender who, night after night, goes out with his boys, Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke) to hook up with girls based on a numerical scale that they’ve all agreed on previously. Jon, whose nickname is “Don Jon” (hence the title) only gets with eights or higher. It’s his thing. He spots a girl at the club, woos her, takes her home, and then smashes (a term for sex). The guys play this same game night after night, but Jon has a secret: he’s completely addicted to porn.
Even after getting with a smoking hot 10, Jon will slide out of bed and visit his laptop for some…self-congratulations. This is his life: work, gym, club, porn, church, and not in that order. Rinse; repeat.
All of this changes when Jon spots Barbara Sugarman (Johansson) one night at the club and he finds himself with a girl that demands he play the “long game” if he wants to sleep with her. His friends refuse to believe that the great Don Jon is in love, but it seems to be the case. Everything about him changes, except one thing: His porn.
Jon does everything that Barbara asks of him, including going back to school and meeting the parents. The Martellos, played by Tony Danza as Jon Sr., Glenne Headly as mother Angela, and Brie Larson as sister Monica all fall in love Barbara, and this sets Jon on a path of doing what he can to keep her in his life. But he refuses to give up the porn.
This is where the theme of the film shifts from rom-com to exposition of a personal identity struggle. Jon is completely addicted to pornography. In his words, it’s “how he connects” to love. He never feels the same with physical love as he does watching three-minute videos off of pornhub.com. And it’s at this point where Don Jon as a film really begins to take hold.
The acting is great on all fronts, but something has to be said about Tony Danza’s Jon Sr. I know Danza can act, having watched him for most of his career, but when he gets a role where he can really shine, it’s a marvel to watch. And he glistens here.
Gordon-Levitt continues to show the world how talented he is, and ScarJo is dead on perfect as the demanding Jersey Girl, Barbara. Julianne Moore is introduced midway through the second act as Esther, a strange older woman that Jon meets at his community college. Esther, who has baggage of her own, acts as a therapist to Jon as he tries to figure out what love really is. Moore is asked to play a range of emotions due to her character, and she excels at every turn.
Don Jon is a very funny movie, even if most of the humor is derived from porn references and other allusions to sex. It’s also very much a guy film. A friend asked if he should take his mother to see it, and I told him no. Don Jon is to the porn industry what Fight Club was to underground fight circuits. There are ample amounts of nudity and sex, and audiences tricked into thinking this is a light-hearted rom-com will be shocked at what they get.
Don Jon does what it sets out to do. When you drill down to its heart, Gordon-Levitt has put together an interesting film about addiction, and love, and life. It’s well-written, well-acted, and all in all, a great study on the life of a single man trying to live his life, even if living is done in three-minute intervals with his pants around his ankles.
Don Jon is rated R and opens nationwide on September 27, 2013.