An interesting and some might say brave move for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, taking on writing and directing duties for this film. It tackles a modern day scourge but packages it in a pseudo caricature setting, though it does lend some much needed heart in what is ultimately an honest endeavour. It may not delve too deep, but it does succeed more than it fails.
A New Jersey guy has a porn addiction, even though he beds a slew of club girls and this whilst staying dedicated to his family, friends and church. That is until he meets the woman of his dreams Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) who seems to change his ideal of love and sex.
It is an R-rated comedy-drama with some explicit scenes and a very blunt approach to sexuality, so not for squeamish viewers, however if you can tolerate those elements, you may yet see the underlying sensitivity.
The Bottom Line
This has been called the nice or friendlier version of Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender’s ‘Shame’ – but whereas there he had a sex addiction, here Don Jon has a porn addiction and it inevitably gets in the way of the one personal relationship he has. From the very first images and footage you see, you’re confronted with how blatant mainstream media and society is with sexuality; its front and centre, always, mostly used as a tool to heighten something unrelated.
Perhaps a flaw to some is the fact that Don Jon wants you to like its protagonist by downplaying his flaws, and in that regard its aided by the fact that you’re not really led too far into what brought him to where he is now, though much of that is hinted at using his father as a barometer (played well by Tony Danza).
It does do a good job ripping off masculine stereotypes, but in that is perhaps also a flaw as this film is purely from a man’s perspective. It doesn’t tackle some of the deeper issues it raises as it wants to focus more on Jon and his problem. So, although it finds certain resolutions, it won’t solve much for the casual observer, because it tackles and solves the problem on a surface level. It’s not so much about true love, but more about losing yourself in the moment – this may not be the intended message, but it’s nevertheless one that comes to the fore as Jon learns the difference between sex and real intimacy.
At the root of the problem with pornography are men, searching for validation within fantasy – a place with little risk.
Another aspect of the film that’s brushed over, despite making a clear commentary on it, is the role of religion. And just like the exaggerated Jersey accents (for comedic effect – though only the main players talk with accents) the representation of the catholic church is also very blunt, portraying it as a by-the-numbers faith (involving “hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s”) that has little to do with God(or god) or spirituality and falls into the pit of cliches. It also neglects the actual psychological impact pornography has on men. This effectively simplifies the story to encompass the flesh and little more.
Adding a tad more gravity though, is Julianne Moore’s ‘Esther’. Although the latter third does benefit from her frank performance as well as a very blunt insertion of maturity in the overall narrative, with her somewhat warped guidance, it – again echoing the macho perspective – is somewhat convenient for the main character.
Overall there are many character’s that aren’t all that fleshed out (excuse the pun) as it uses that dynamic for comic relief whilst touching on the heavier issues. Essentially it doesn’t give your average guy much to aspire to, and while it is vulgar and almost makes you watch cheap porno videos (unless you fancy that kind of thing), it still manages to be a decent film.