US Release Date: 09-27-2013
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as
- Scarlett Johansson, as
- Julianne Moore, as
- Tony Danza, as
- Jon Sr.
- Glenne Headly, as
- Brie Larson, as
- Rob Brown, as
- Jeremy Luke, as
- Paul Ben-Victor, as
- Italia Ricci, as
- Loanne Bishop, as
- Barbara's Mom
- Anne Hathaway, as
- Hollywood Actress #1
- Channing Tatum, as
- Holywood Actor #1
- Meagan Good, as
- Hollywood Actress #2
- Cuba Gooding Jr. as
- Hollywood Actor #2
Tony Danza and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play father and son in Don Jon.
Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his feature film debut as writer/director/star in Don Jon. He plays a stereotypical Guido (think of a slightly more intelligent and sensitive version of The Situation) living in New Jersey. He spends his nights with his boys at a local club searching for “dimes” (a perfect 10) to sleep with. He attends mass and confession every Sunday followed by a pasta dinner with his very Italian/American parents and perpetually texting younger sister. He also visits the gym religiously and compulsively cleans his apartment. Oh yeah, and Jon loves to jack off to internet porn every single day.
One night Jon meets a dime named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson doing her best Jersey Shore accent) and they begin dating. Barbara is a sexual tease, leading Jon around by his genitals without actually giving him sex. She encourages him to take an adult education class and their relationship gets serious enough that he brings her home to meet his folks over Sunday dinner. Eventually they have sex and then Barbara catches Jon pleasuring himself to internet porn...
Jon's father is played to perfection by Tony Danza (who Gordon-Levitt had previously worked with nearly 20 years earlier on Disney's remake of Angels in the Outfield). These family dinner scenes are reminiscent of the ones in Saturday Night Fever (in fact the entire movie is reminiscent of SNF only minus the disco dancing and plus plenty of brief porn shots).
Jon meets a free-spirited older woman at his night class (Julianne Moore looking far younger than her 52 years) and they slowly begin a friendship that will perhaps lead to something more. Although essentially a comedy, Don Jon deals with serious topics. Jon enjoys masturbating to porn better than actually having sex. As he explains it, he “loses himself” in porn in a way he never can with another person.
Gordon-Levitt buffed up for the part and really disappears inside his character. Each actor seems perfectly cast for their role. Scarlett Johansson makes a great bimbo. She knows just what she wants from a man and how to get it too. Tony Danza steals his scenes as the loudmouthed family patriarch presiding over an endless stream of pasta dinners, and Julianne Moore brings an intelligence and fragility to her role as the older woman. The script is nimble, the direction stylish. All in all Don Jon is a fairly impressive feature film debut from a talented young filmmaker.
Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon.
One of the most impressive aspects of this feature debut is that it's a comedy with some ideas behind it. It has something to say about addiction, relationships, maturity, the objectification of women by the media, and even religion. What's even more impressive is that it touches on all those ideas without ever becoming heavy-handed or sacrificing laughs or entertainment. It's not a perfect film and it doesn't follow through or fully explore all its ideas, but Gordon-Levitt deserves kudos for his deft handling of so many of them.
As with many debut movies or books, Don Jon is a coming of age story. Jon is physically a man when the movie begins, but not mentally or emotionally. He thinks only of himself, his belongings and his own pleasure. His journey is learning to lose that selfishness.
Gordon-Levitt struts his way through the movie, but he never quite seems comfortable as the macho lothario. He seems more at ease and shines in his more vulnerable moments. Julianne Moore is a natural as the older woman who helps Jon grow up. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are amusing and scene-stealing as Jon's parents, but their characters feel as if they're out of a sitcom. Their stereotypical behavior has drawn complaints of racism from Italian American groups. It is Scarlett Johansson as Barbara who is the real standout. She buries herself in the part, playing an essentially unlikable character, and proves that there's some real acting talent behind her beautiful facade. The Academy rarely rewards comedies, but I wouldn't be disappointed to see her nominated for supporting actress.
One of the most interesting aspects of the script is the way it explores the expectations of the sexes in relationships and the way those expectations are fed by the media. Men are fed a constant diet of sexy women and pornography leading to unrealistic expectations in the bedroom. Women, meanwhile, on a diet of romantic comedies are taught to expect a man who will do anything for the woman they love. Both views tend to be one-sided with each side expecting to receive the unconditional pleasure they want from their partner. Because the script tries to explore several other ideas, it's not an aspect that is fully explored, but it is perhaps the most interesting.
It will be interesting to see what Gordon-Levitt will do in his sophomore effort, if he writes or directs again. Is this the start of a new career for him, or just a onetime vanity project?
Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon
Patrick mentioned this films many stereotypes, while Scott wrote that it has something to say about addiction, relationships, maturity, the objectification of women and religion. Both are correct but neither hit the message on the head, which is sincerity in relationships.
Everywhere Jon looks he sees images of made up women sexually presented. It creates unrealistic images not only for girls to live up to but also for insecure men who would not dare to be seen with a less than perfect woman. Jon walks by a picture of a body builder every time he works out at a gym. He uses hair gel and is well groomed. He is as made up as Barbara.
Jon has developed expectations for sex based on the porn he watches. He wants a girl who will do to him everything he sees in porn without ever having to reciprocate. He talks about how he dislikes performing cunnilingus but complains about girls not giving him head or doing it too briefly.
Whereas he wants a woman who will take care of him in bed, Barbara wants a man who will take care of her out of bed. She asks him about his job and mentions a friend whose man makes lots of money. She talks Jon into taking a class to improve him and maybe get a better job. She uses sex to get him to do her bidding. She teases him until he does something and then gives him sex as a reward afterwards.
Barbara and Jon are very shallow people who are attracted to each other physically and hope the other will become their ideal mate. Jon only dates/has sex with girls his friends find hot. While Barbara is appalled when she finds out Jon cleans his home diligently. It is not how she thinks a man should act. In fact, her ideal man is as unrealistic as his ideal woman.
Even Jon’s parents help perpetuate the stigma of looks over substance. His father practically drools over Barbara while his mother calls her lovely. Neither sees below her superficial surface. Jon goes to confession diligently but the priest never offers any advice. Jon is a bit shocked when the priest is not impressed with his weeklong abstinence from porn.
Wisdom finally comes in the form of the middle aged Esther, played by Moore who looks every bit her 52 years. I think she is meant to look her age as she never wears makeup and is the catalyst for Jon to see the world for what it is. Her telling Jon that porn is not sex, nearly pisses him off. Whereas he always imagined sex has a greater meaning, it is not until she rides him on her couch that he sees it can have a greater purpose than just next day bragging rights.
Another source of wisdom comes from Jon’s sister. She is presented as a stereotypical young lady addicted to her cell phone. We think she is not paying attention when in fact she sees Barbara better than everyone else.
Don Jon presents a realistic modern world of young people dealing with relationships and sex. Because of porn, and even some regular movies, sex has become a very misunderstood experience. Film is fantasy and to the immature, it can be a huge detrimental influence. Don Jon took on a huge contemporary subject but its resolution felt incomplete. At the end of this film, Jon is in a better place but I felt this film left much unsaid.
Photos © Copyright Relativity Media (2013)