Yeah…I reached for that one. Also, check out my kick-ass new banner! Courtesy, naturally, of SciFridays‘ Sarah Lawrence.
The Plot: Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a buff womanizer from New Jersey. He has a ton of sex with many attractive ladies, but he’s also addicted to porn, so the sex is never satisfying. One day, he decides that he’s in love with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a super attractive New Jersey lady, who turns out to be pretty controlling. She’s also very much against porn. What will Jon do? Will his addiction to porn end up destroying his relationship with the actually-not-perfect Barbara? Will a lonely widow (Julianne Moore) teach him to have meaningful sex? Yes, obviously.
In case my snarky plot description didn’t make it clear, Don Jon’s story is pretty straightforward. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film is a simplistic—yet very stylish—look at how porn is actually less fulfilling than real human connection. In service of this theme, the characters are, for the most part, written with an almost fairytale-like exaggeration. Jon is lunkheaded, and, since his worldview is a mix of “traditional” Catholic values and porn fantasies, sort of a misogynist. JGL’s dedicated performance sells these facets of the character, but also manages to make Jon sympathetic. That’s pretty impressive, considering that nobody likes New Jersey, and Jon is kind of a douche on paper.
The supporting cast is equally dedicated, bringing these often two-dimensional characters to some semblance of life. ScarJo—gotta love celebrity nicknames—is fantastic as Barbara. She goes full Joisey, and it’s perfect. Johansson is basically playing a cartoon character, and like the great 90s Brendan Fraser before her, totally commits. Barbara feels, if not real, then at least exactly as real as the THEME needs her to be.
This is true of all but two of the characters. Jon’s parents, friends, even the priest at his church—they’re all just there to represent the different pressures put on a buff Catholic dude in this crazy modern world. His mom wants him to Marry a Nice Girl, while his sexist dad wants him to Watch Sports. Jon’s friends want to Bro Out and Get Laid and Hi Five After Getting Laid. The priest tells him to say Hail Mary’s or whatever, and probably doesn’t really care what Jon does. But he still represents the Church.
Ultimately, the only characters who feel sort of real are Julianne Moore’s Magic Lonely Widow and Brie Larson’s Magic Sullen Teenager. Moore, though her character is essentially a form of Deus Sex Machina (see what I did there?), plays the role straight, to the point where you could also see her existing in a serious drama, which this most definitely isn’t.
Brie Larson spends most of the movie silently texting, and then gets to have a Silent Bob moment of Real Talk. You can see it coming from a mile away, but it’s still kind of satisfying because no one else in the room can communicate like a normal human being. Also, Larson’s subtle facial expressions in earlier scenes manage to convey a sense of depth that’s vital in setting up her Big Moment.
Now, all that stuff I said about the characters being two-dimensional may have seemed kind of negative. In most cases, it would be, but JGL isn’t going for realism here. I referred earlier to a “fairytale-like exaggeration,” and I think that’s pretty apt. Really? You agree with something you said five paragraphs ago? Shut up. Also, yes.
Don Jon, in its own simple way, is a modern fairytale. Not in the Disney sense, but in the sense that Archetypes Do Stuff to Teach Us a Lesson. Sex is more satisfying when you’re not just mechanically recreating scenes from Lucky Pizza Guy IV: Extra Sausage. Yes, it’s obvious, but so is believing in yourself, which I swear to God if I watch one more kids’ movie where that’s the only message I am gonna set fire to the Hollywood sign. A-hem. You okay, dude? Yeah, I’m fine. Want to talk about it? I’M FINE.
So the simple plot and characters are both well-suited to JGL’s approach. I’m still not sure if this was a story that needed to be told, or even a point that needed to be made, but Don Jon is exactly what it’s trying to be, and it gets props for that. And hey, it’s not like there’s a ton of real movies about porn out there, so maybe what seems obvious to this Legit Film Critic is something that the unwashed masses have to learn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.