Saying the world isn’t trying to sexualize everything from movies to granola bar commercials is like saying spiders aren’t terrifying: it’s a big fat lie and we all know it. The pornofication of society is such an obvious, yet unspoken, topic that would seem like a perfect idea to focus on for a comedy. ‘Don Jon’, written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, tries to be that movie but inevitably succumbs to the exact raw sexuality it sought to lampoon.
Setting the movie in New Jersey and making Jon (Levitt) a less annoying version of the men from ‘Jersey Shore’ was the best decision in the entire movie. The fact that the phrases ‘nah’ and ‘I have a headache’ don’t seem to be a part of their vocabulary makes Jon’s car-loving, metro sexual, porn-addict douche bag persona appear legitimate, and appropriately ridiculous. Levitt seems to have really enjoyed writing this character based off his total dedication to become a grease-headed a-hole. However, as the movie goes on, he does little to morph that persona into someone likeable.
Here is a man fueled by a need to have sex, but fails to find any passion or fulfillment with any of the factory produced women he ‘conquers’. Hence his constant retreating to porn, finding pleasure in the fantasy of what is presented as real passion. That is till he finds busty, blonde and vivacious Barbara (Scarlett Johanssen) who, with her curves and sensuality, will surely cure his disease. Isn’t that the only medicine a man truly needs?
Wrong, as it is made apparent that Barbara is nothing more than the fantasy of the many porn stars Jon spends hours staring at. She’s a princess who wants to control everything and uses her body to do it. It’s a far cry from Johansson’s usual work and like Levitt does a great job jumping into. But, like the entirety of the movie, discovering the true nature of her character takes far too long to get into showing too much of them making out and grinding. It seems like a movie meant for the 13-year-old who got too hot and bothered watching Johansson in ‘The Avengers’, with their inevitable break up being all to brief in favor of filming sexual contact. Finally we see the unlikable girl she truly is, leading Jon to ponder “If big boobs isn’t love, what is?”
This leads him to Esther (Julianne Moore) as the older but more complex woman who ends up being exactly the change Jon needs. But given that’s the case, Levitt spends far too little time actually delving into these characters, lacking any emphasis on what was the point to the whole movie: Love is not the cookie-cutter girl you meet in bars, but the real human being you never see coming. Which is sad, given her character is so essential to the movie’s overlying message but is given less time on camera than talking in a porno. Much like many of the smart girls in life, she is pushed to the very back to make room for pretty blondes despite being way more interesting and important.
She does have a place, mind you, but it doesn’t come until maybe the last 15 minutes of the movie, in which Jon far too easily gives up porn and then discovers the true nature of love. However direct and well-understood that message comes across, the flip-flopped perspective and structure of the movie does less of a job being against the sexualization of the world and instead contributes to it. About 70 minutes of the movie focuses on Jon having sex and living in his dirty porn bubble, with the last 20 rushing to make it’s point, ultimately ending so abruptly I thought I had fallen asleep and missed 15 minutes of the movie. Jon and Esther’s journey is so abrupt; it creates a movie that seems unfinished.
Little is done in the wake of creating any kind of emotional conflict necessary in dealing with the reality and fantasy of what beauty truly is, which would’ve been far more interesting than all the clips of various pornos. It’s almost like the thought process was “Yeah sex, sex and more sex scenes, oh wait, who cares about this emotion stuff. Just say something deep and let’s end it there”.
By the end, it was obvious Levitt has some talent, with a clear point made and some richly voiced characters with a first act I quite enjoyed. But after being only occasionally funny and far too episodic in tone it’s apparent what he needs much work on is finding what to do with those characters outside their one-dimensional habits, digging deeper into them, therefore making for a far less glacially paced movie. Until then we are left with a distracted, disappointing directorial debut that’s not very funny or emotionally engaging enough to make its point seem honest. Oh well, at least it’ll give kids something exhilarating to try and sneak into as they shout, “Hey, guys! Black Widow is grinding on Robin.”