Thursday, December 19, 2013

Film Review: Don Jon

Copyright: Relativity Media
If you look at the façade of this movie, you might decide it’s about porn. Its main character is a New Jersey resident and a single bartender named Jon who loves only a few things in life: his friends, his car, his apartment, his muscles, his church, his one night stands with very attractive women he doesn’t know and his porn. He often has sex after he picks up girls in nightclubs, but admits to himself that only porn and masturbation in front of his laptop gives him the opportunity to lose himself.

The plot is simple as it sounds. Jon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is satisfied with his life, but at the same time, perplexed why real sex with beautiful women (every one of them gets at least an eight on his ten-point-scale) doesn’t give him the same kick as porn does. Soon, he meets Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson), a clear ten on his scale, who isn’t willing to become just another stranger Don welcomes to his apartment. Instead, she forces him to revise his way of life, and Don accepts. Yet still, porn prevails.

First of all Scarlett Johansson should be congratulated for one of her best roles in recent years. She is stunningly beautiful and aware of her sexual allure, while at the same time she constantly presents an almost stereotypical “Jersey girl” who is always chewing gum and does many things straight from a calmer episode of the Jersey Shore. Her character is seemingly simple, but gets more layers as Don tries to find a soul mate (and sex mate) in her. Johansson upheld Barbara in every step, and I hope she gets some big award nominations for her role. Julianne Moore, who plays the other important woman in Jon’s life, gives a solid effort, but pales in comparison.

The movie isn’t about addiction, or the horrors of jerking off to a porn website. It examines how the modern era, where children (both sexes) grew up with a specific world view, shaped their expectation on everything, including sex. The pornographic industry isn’t a scapegoat in this film; it’s just something that is around. Instead, the film focuses on the attitude of Jon, and it presents him as a regular person who somehow got alienated from the natural way of making love. The story actually chronicles the development of his new grounded sexuality, through pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

I was amazed how accurately Don Jon captured the current phenomenon of porn, without making it a subculture thing or generalizing in any way. It’s a stark contrast to films that try to make their whole plot about modern technology and the way it shapes our lives, like the movie The SocialNetwork, and for me, fail completely. I believe it’s because Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the movie and directed it, really can connect to the occurrences of people enjoying porn more than real sex. He saw his generation migrate during childhood from Playboy magazines to VHS tapes and then to the glorious internet access, where porn became infinite. In The Social Network, David Fincher (who’s also a terrific director) was already in his forties when Facebook had been launched. It was clear to see that he simply didn’t have a way to relate to his topic, while Gordon-Levitt does that with ease.

The only visible downside in the directorial approach is the repetitive sequences – Don goes to the gym where he prays for repentance of his sins which involve sexual intercourse out-of-wedlock, masturbation and pornography watching, then he goes back home and cleans his apartment, and then he drives to church, and so on. I get that the idea was to show his life, but Gordon-Levitt pushed it too far and gained nothing by it. I don’t believe that the concept was flawed; just that he overdid it (going for, let’s say, four or five repetitive cycles, and showing one too many). This seems to me as a rookie mistake, maybe because the editing crew subconsciously wanted to extend the run time of the film (the ending credits start to roll after 84 minutes). But for a first time director, in spite of this, Don Jon is most definitely golden.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt created a light-hearted movie about the evolution of sexuality through the perspective of a man who doesn’t inspire to achieve greatness in any way. Instead, he just wants to find love that doesn’t include a computer monitor. It drives the audience by laughs, but is actually a serious drama about finding oneself in sex, even when sex is plentiful.