Film Review: “Don Jon”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines in his major motion picture debut as a screenwriter and director

All he needs is his church, his car, his family, his girls and his porn — and lots of it at that. Don Jon, as many of his party friends call him, goes day and night revamping his narcissistic ego and sharpening his personal count of one-night stands in order to avoid his dissatisfaction with life.

Jon Martello, Jr. (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “500 Days of Summer”), a bratty stud, finds an unusual passion for vast amounts of pornography, downloading and streaming it on his computer or phone. His fetish becomes an obstacle when he is met with the conundrum of choosing porn over a long-term relationship — even as he falls in love with Barbara, (Scarlett Johansson, “The Avengers”), who attempts to set him straight. Yet Jon’s life turns upside down when his newfound love Barbara catches him masturbating to porn after having sex with her for the first time. Barbara, with her unrealistic perception of love based on stereotypical romantic comedies, finds that Jon’s interest in porn falls short of anything promising. Needless to say, the lovers’ conflicting desires end up pushing them away from each other. A battle between reality and fantasy drives Jon to seek his religion as an escape but ultimately turns to his family and an acquaintance Esther (Julianne Moore, “Boogie Nights”) to help him escape and wake up from his superficial lens.

The film is reminiscent of a “Jersey Shore” and “Grease” abomination at first, but pushes to speak of deeper issues of sexual objectification, pornography. The slicked back greaser hair, the less-than-classy Italo-American accent and the Snooki-looking outfits can be hit-or-miss for this film, but its strong meaning acknowledges Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing debut as above par. The film succeeds with a brilliant cast, outstanding acting and a mind-bending storyline.

“Don Jon” dares to speak of obsession, addiction and compulsion, and illustrates how the elements that drive and define our lives can impede normal, productive behavior. The film illuminates this view by submerging the audience in a tunnel vision of emotions. The characters’ personalities enhance the viewer’s connection to the film with sadness, hatred and pain. Nonetheless, the film does a great job in subduing the darker aspects of the morality of pornography, non-monogamous relationships and sexual objectification of women with an unorthodox style of acting that makes “Don Jon” a forthcoming cinematic beauty.

“Don Jon” confronts pornography as a medium by putting it in the context — and in the way — of love. Porn surfaces as an escape from any meaningful physical interaction with a person, and love becomes a fact of fiction as a result. Two extremes — Jon’s purely erotic view of “love” and Barbara’s romanticized fairytale perspective — collide to explain that love can be whatever you make of it.

All in all, “Don Jon” will be sure to spice the box office as a film for daring couples, singles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt aficionados. The film is not for the faint of heart, but it promises to prompt hordes of conversations about what love can be.