*Portions of this review were published in January as part of my coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
In his feature directorial debut,
Sundance- and America's-darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote
and stars in the film) adopts an array of sleeveless muscle tees, a
Joizy accent and a slicked back crew cut as the womanizing and
As Jon tells us himself in the first of a
series of swift-cut rapid-edit montages, there's only a few things he
really cares about: his looks, his apartment, his car, his family, his
church, his bros, his ladies and of course, his porn. He's a relatively
care-free bartender who likes to go out and is incredibly successful at
getting women to go home with him and, having done that, counts the
minutes for when his company leaves and he can be alone again with his
But after meeting Scarlett Johansson's Barbara – played
with all the gum-chewing, hair twirling patter of a Jersey Shore cast
reject – Jon decides to do something unprecedented: he plays the long
game, taking the time and effort to actually build a relationship with
another human being. Barbara isn't won over easily, and bit by bit Jon
finds himself changing to meet her expectations, most notably by
delaying the physical aspects of their relationship and enrolling in a
community college to earn a degree.
The movie is chock-full of
things that would make my mother blush, but it’s also filled with heaps
of heart for its array of loveable-while-unlikeable characters. Don Jon
tells us the story of a man learning how to make connections in the real
world but also paints one of the most clever juxtapositions I’ve ever
seen of the way both men AND women objectify each other. Jon's
unrealistic expectations of women and romance, bred by his years of
heavy pornography consumption, is placed in contrast and reflection to
his paramour’s obsession with derivative romantic comedies and concept
of the male ideal. Which is the greater fiction? Most people would
likely fall on one side of the debate, but that doesn't mean the
question isn't worth asking.
Also, for a first-time director, JGL
masterfully cuts the film together, using computer sound cues and tones
with expert precision and perfectly sinking his cuts with the beat and
rhythm of the music and story. His character's slow-burn transformation
is both seamless and natural and the supporting players – particularly
Tony Danza as Jon's hilariously identical father – are managed with a
care and finesse that breeds believability.
As for the graphic
content, which is sure to ruffle some feathers, the movie makes liberal
uses of pornographic clips but Gordon-Levitt took great care to select
images that arrive at the edge of, but do not reach beyond, what is
typical for an R-rated movie. Don Jon is Adult with a capital A, but it
is also funny, fearless and at its center is a nuanced conversation
about the way we consume content and vilify the choices of others.
In the end yes, Don Jon is a movie about porn. But it's also probably the best movie about porn I've ever seen.
*Don Jon opens nationwide on September 27.