“Don Jon” Movie Review

     Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing and directing debut with “Don Jon”, a character study that tries to tell us the true feelings and motivations every guy has in the dating world, only to ultimately solve nothing and leave us and the character right we started at the beginning of the story.  Through a series of slickly edited montages, we abruptly meet Jon (Gordon-Levitt) and are immersed in his lifestyle with all the detail of a 140 character Tweet. From the moment he lays eyes on a girl, she’s in a cab and in his bed seconds later.  It’s as if his life boils down to five basic priorities:  his friends, pad, family, church, and porn.  The last of which is the basis of the entire film.  In essence, “Don Jon” is a less sophisticated “Shame”, relying not on the pain of sex addiction, but instead stereotypical characters who likely would’ve found a better home on the reality show “Jersey Shore”.

     It’s not a surprise when the opening scenes of the film show Jon at a local club with his friends and we are treated to the reasoning behind his nickname “Don”, given by his friends for his ability to pick up girls in the nightclubs they frequent on constant basis.  Gordon-Levitt depicts these scenes for what they really are, that being meaningless hook ups with women Jon will likely never see again.  This is immediately confirmed when Jon is confronted by a woman who asks why he never called her again.  He smugly replies “You didn’t really expect me to call again, did you?”  The music video style presentation continues into the other aspects of Jon’s seemingly simple existence.  He goes to the gym to work on his body.  He spends hours meticulously cleaning his apartment.  He spends copious amounts of time with his family and regularly goes to church for confession.  Perhaps he does these things to help pump up his moral standards because in every other moment of free time he watches porn clips on his computer and masturbates.

     Gordon-Levitt’s script gives us the most detailed  play by play you’ll ever see in a film when it comes to his character’s preferred methods for satisfying himself.  The film is littered with quick shots and collages of the clips Jon is watching and each session ends with a wad of Kleenex being tossed in the garbage can.  The film probably recycles this sequence at least thirty times, each ending with Jon in the church confessional, telling a priest the exact number of times he’s had intercourse out of wedlock and how many times he’s masturbated to pornography during the week.  As the numbers rise, so do the number of prayers he’s told to say.  Of course, as it goes in the world of religious people, you can be a “sinner” and at the end of the week the sins just miraculously disappear with just the consequence of repeating Hail Mary’s to yourself over and over.  I’m still not sure how that works, but this is just fiction right?

     During Jon’s various encounters, he details to the audience both visually and through narrative that he watches porn because it’s actually better than having the real thing.  In short, he’s living in a proverbial fantasy land, but has seemed to accept the women in his life won’t ever measure up to the way he is able to “lose himself” when he’s watching a porn clip.  Nothing demonstrates this more than his habit of getting up in the middle of the night, after having sex with some random girl he brings home from a club, and gains his own sense of satisfaction by masturbating while watching porn in the next room.  This seems to work for him, until he meets Barbara.

     During one of Jon’s club outings, he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and the two hit off.  Barbara is something of the opposite of Jon in that she is clearly looking for a relationship and doesn’t jump into bed with the guys she meets.  Jon, perhaps because of the pressure from his mother to get married and have kids, goes with it for a while and becomes a one woman man.  In truth though, nothing really has changed.  Jon makes it clear to his friends and even his family that his interest in Barbara has more to do with her being “the most beautiful girl” he’s ever seen in his life more than anything else she offers.  As is the case with nearly all of the film’s characters, Johansson plays Barbara with an irritating and over the top Jersey accent that immediately subtracts from her character.  Moreover, one wonders how Barbara could possibly expect to pick up her future husband in a Jersey nightclub?

     Predictably, Jon continues to be himself, which causes dismay in the relationship.  When he’s caught lying about his porn addiction for the second time, Barbara leaves him, which opens the door in the third act for another woman to make her play.  Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), an older woman who attends a class in night school with Jon.  The scenes between Moore and Gordon-Levitt seem a bit unsettling and even forced, given both the age difference but also the abrupt change in the film’s tone.  After watching the oddball relationship between Jon and Barbara play out in a mostly cartoonish by the numbers affair, suddenly Jon meets someone who shares similar though different emotional pain.  It almost felt like you were watching two different films with same lead male actor.

     If Gordon-Levitt is trying to convey anything here, it seems to be the general state of disfunction all of us seem to live in at one time or another.  Jon’s family is your stereotypical Italian family who sits down to a heavy pasta dinner every night with a father (Tony Danza) at the head of the table dropping F-bombs, being sexist, and watching sports on TV paired with the aforementioned mother (Glenne Headly) who cooks and cleans while dreaming of grandchildren.  In a modern twist, Gordon-Levitt inserts  a mostly mute sister who spends each moment we see her on her smartphone texting whether it be at the dinner table or at church.  Combine these characters with Moore’s bizarre, yet tragic, character Esther and you have plenty to support the notion Gordon-Levitt wants to tell us relationships in general no longer have any hope, thus the need for porn.  GRADE:  C