Review by Paul Stathakis | December 20, 2013

Blinded by porn

Jon has an addic­tion. It does­n’t involve alco­hol or drugs but, instead, porn. Just the sound of his com­put­er pow­er­ing up is enough to excite him for he knows very well what’s avail­able at his fin­ger­tips: a vast selec­tion of free porno­graph­ic con­tent on the inter­net. “Noth­ing else does it for me the same way,” explains Jon. The clips he sees on the inter­net seem infi­nite­ly more steami­er than his real life expe­ri­ences with the many attrac­tive women he brings to his pad night after night. But Jon fails to think about why the sex in porn looks more wild. He for­gets that it’s script­ed, rehearsed, done in sev­er­al takes, and with actors that, as a class­mate of his points out, are fak­ing it. Despite these facts, Jon can’t go a day with­out porn. Plea­sur­ing him­self in front of his lap­top is his favourite escape. As he puts it, dur­ing those pre­cious min­utes he los­es him­self. Not even the woman of his dreams, Bar­bara (Scar­lett Johans­son), can help him over­come this habit. Jon imag­ines he’ll be able to car­ry on liv­ing this way for­ev­er until Bar­bara tack­les the issue head on.

Ear­ly on in “Don Jon” we meet Jon’s fam­i­ly. His hot-tem­pered father (Tony Dan­za) wants him to grow up. His moth­er (Glenne Head­ly) yearns for the day where her son will announce that he’s found the girl of his dreams. And then, there is Jon’s sis­ter (Brie Lar­son) who sits qui­et­ly, observ­ing the bick­er­ing at the table. She only inter­venes once in the film and sur­pris­es Jon with a clever obser­va­tion. Jon, to his moth­er’s con­tent­ment, falls for Bar­bara from the very moment he first lays eyes on her in a night­club. Jon’s father is impressed not by Bar­bara’s ami­able nature or her man­ners but her beau­ty. He imme­di­ate­ly notices her phys­i­cal traits and even dares ask Jon if her breasts are real. Dan­za is ter­rif­ic in the few min­utes he occu­pies in the film. He com­mends Jon for win­ning over a woman like Bar­bara who hap­pens to be some­what of a hope­less roman­tic. When Jon takes her to the movies, she choos­es to watch a roman­tic com­e­dy fea­tur­ing two well-known faces who make cameo appear­ances.  It’s quite an amus­ing moment. Min­utes lat­er, we learn that Bar­bara also has a con­trol­ling side to her. When Jon talks about just how much he enjoys clean­ing his pad, she orders him to quit talk­ing about vac­u­um­ing and clean­li­ness. “Why, what’s wrong?” asks Jon. “Why?”, answers Bar­bara, “because it’s not sexy, that’s why.” Things get even edgi­er when Bar­bara catch­es Jon in the act of watch­ing porn. She’s filled with dis­gust but Jon comes up with a con­vinc­ing excuse that gets him off the hook. That is, until the day he for­gets to clear his brows­er history.

Don Jon” is a bold roman­tic com­e­dy, dif­fer­ent from the ones that we’re accus­tomed to see­ing. It is writ­ten, direct­ed, and pro­duced by Joseph Gor­don-Levitt and offers a no holds-barred kind of expe­ri­ence. There isn’t an inch of filth that Levitt is will­ing to leave out of this pic­ture though the film could’ve ben­e­fit­ed from more sto­ry and less porn. The idea that Jon can’t be sat­is­fied out­side of view­ing x‑rated con­tent becomes redun­dant and the film suf­fers because not as much time is invest­ed in the char­ac­ters. In fact. we learn very lit­tle about them with the excep­tion of Julianne Moore’s char­ac­ter, Esther. Per­haps Levit­t’s inten­tions were to reveal lit­tle about the char­ac­ters to illus­trate how dis­con­nect­ed and out of touch he is with the peo­ple around him. Does he tru­ly ever take the time to get to know some­one? He prob­a­bly knows more about porno­graph­ic per­form­ers than he does about the women he meets. Esther is Jon’s class­mate. She’s a woman hov­er­ing through dif­fer­ent emo­tions for one main rea­son that is revealed at just the right moment. Jon hes­i­tates to con­nect with her until Esther man­ages to grab his atten­tion  by gift­ing him a porno­graph­ic film on DVD. Moore is an out­stand­ing actress and her mar­vel­lous per­for­mance makes “Don Jon” a bet­ter film.When it’s fun­ny, the laughs come easy. When it’s per­verse in all the right ways, so do the chuck­les. But a big part of this film just does­n’t belong. It inter­feres with the charm. Levit­t’s main hand­i­cap is that he jug­gles with sev­er­al orig­i­nal ideas that he just can’t seem to bridge togeth­er. It’s like watch­ing a col­lec­tion of good and not-so-good vignettes based on the notion of love. Levitt, oper­at­ing under his own pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Hit Record, will cer­tain­ly write, pro­duce, and direct anoth­er film fol­low­ing the box office suc­cess of “Don Jon.” His next project will sure­ly be more com­plete and mean­ing­ful. “Don Jon” is noth­ing more than a warm up for Levitt and an oppor­tu­ni­ty for him to show­case his abil­i­ties as a writer and a filmmaker.

Levitt is ver­sa­tile. That he could go from play­ing a good-boy in “500 Days of Sum­mer” (2009) to being a bad-boy in “Don Jon” is proof of his range as an actor. Not too many actors would want to be cast in this light but Levitt takes no shame in play­ing Jon. His per­for­mance mir­rors the film’s tone in every way imag­in­able. It’s shock­ing, explic­it, and unapolo­getic. On an act­ing lev­el, the film works. On a dra­mat­ic one, it nev­er takes off. The scenes that do shine through are fresh and unfor­get­table like the moments in the con­fes­sion­al booth. Dur­ing one church vis­it, he asks his priest how he comes up with the appro­pri­ate num­ber of Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s to rid him of his week­ly sin­ful behav­iour. This is a mere exam­ple of when “Don Jon” is at its best but such scenes are few and far between. Because the plot is neglect­ed, with the focus accen­tu­at­ed more on style, we quick­ly lose inter­est in the film. “Don Jon” turns in cir­cles for 90 min­utes to sim­ply arrive at a con­clu­sion which feels arti­fi­cial, point­less, and sap­py. For a film that aims to be as real as pos­si­ble, that’s just not real­is­tic enough.