Any non-delusional person would admit that pornography has made huge in-roads into the mainstream of entertainment since the advent of the internet. There are news magazine specials about it, the actors can defend their trade on the daytime talk circuit, and primetime sitcoms (Friends, Two and Half Men, etc) can devote jokes or even whole episodes to the subject of porn. Generally speaking, the presentation of pornography, especially when used in the latter settings, is a positive one that carries some embarrassing moments but is otherwise mostly harmless. Don Jon (2013, R), a feature film directed by, written by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, begins by shifting this narrative to a different track.
The eponymous title character, Jon (Levitt), is serious about a handful of things in his life. He’s kind enough to name them off for us: his body, his apartment, his car, his family, his church, his guy friends, the girls he brings home to have sex with, and his porn. The movie focuses mostly on the last two. Jon is quite adept at picking up women for sex. However, as much as he likes sex, he likes porn more. When he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he finds a woman resistant to his charms, which, in typical fashion, makes him desire her more, even to the point of changing himself to satisfy her. Alas, even sex with Barbara isn’t as good as porn. Their relationship becomes strained, though, when she catches him in a post-coital indulgence of this most favorite of his hobbies.
This was an intriguing concept that is highly relevant for today’s world. The very fact that someone would make a movie critical or pornography seems a bold move at first blush. Jon is even presented as a faithful Catholic who goes to confession every Sunday so that he can receive the Eucharist. There’s something you don’t see in the average Hollywood production. Unfortunately, this set up virtue as a fall guy so that it could ultimately be torn down in the name of vice.
Let me explain.
The initial parts of the movie explaining Jon’s objectification of everything in his world, rank materialism, and overall shallowness are well done. Then came the first missed opportunity. Gordon-Levitt takes the story on a tangent to demonstrate the Barbara suffers from the same afflictions as Jon. Rather than porn, she objectifies her relationships in favor of saccharine Hollywood romantic dreck. This is another highly topical point that could have been refined and polished into a real part of the show. Unfortunately, it is discarded almost immediately in favor of just showing Barbara as more of a generic snob.
It was all downhill after that. Gordon-Levitt’s next move was to introduce Julianne Moore as Esther, a classmate Jon meets after submitting to Barbara’s demands that he return to school. Little is really done to flesh out her character. Her defining traits are that she seems kind of weird and has some kind of tragedy in her life. Throwing this character in among a series of disjointed vignettes of Jon watching porn, arguing with his family, going to church, etc. made for a very disorganized film. Working with Chris Nolan hasn’t done Gordon-Levitt any favors.
Ultimately, he tries to bring it all together by giving Jon his escape. Apparently, all that is needed to escape from porn addiction is satisfactory fornication. And so Jon is saved. Gordon-Levitt also includes a gratuitous shot at the Church towards the end, along with a couple of bits of imagery to make sure the viewer understands that Jon’s Catholicism is really the most worthless of his activities.
To say I was disappointed with this movie is an understatement. Gordon-Levitt the actor certainly isn’t the problem here, as he does a fine job as the decadent and hopeless Jon. Scarlett Johansson, who is possibly the most overrated actress in Hollywood, is far more grating than the intentionally annoying character she portrays is supposed to be. Yet it still could have worked. The other characters aren’t around long enough to merit a review.
Gordon-Levitt the writer/director, though, was all over the place. I really think part of the problem was that he didn’t know what kind of movie he wanted this to be. Maybe a better editor could have helped. It wasn’t a long show, but there seemed to be way more superfluities and a lot of other stuff that was cut short.
In the final analysis, even stellar directing and writing still wouldn’t have saved it. I don’t expect movies to have all the characters be angels. I also don’t mind movies with themes of negative themes (nihilism, despair, etc.). Even these can be instructive in their own way. When a movie makes a point to denigrate truth in the manner of Don Jon, I basically give up on looking for redeeming value. Granted, you don’t catch on to this until the last 20 minutes or so. There are hints, but you really believe that Jon is going to come out of all this as an honest person. The cheap shots when he doesn’t are just too much.
It should be obvious, but this isn’t a kids movie. There is graphic sexual content and the language is about as bad as it gets. There is plenty of Catholic content, but it’s all to make the rejection at the end more palpable.
Stay away, folks. Life is too short to watch crappy movies. Flaming cow fart.
Review by Throwback