Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in this important and interesting comedy drama about societies attitude’s to sex and pornography. Starring alongside him are the beautiful Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza. Levitt stars as the title character, Jon, or dubbed ‘Don’ Jon by his friends for his sexual prowess with women – in a wonderful sequence at the beginning of the film, Jon takes us through his routine; eyes a girl at the bar, moves onto dancing, making out and finally the deed itself. But all that changes when he sets his eye upon Barbara (Johansson), who he has coined a ‘dime’ (the ultimate; good tits, ass etc). Drinks turn to dancing but when she pushes him away as he lurches for the kiss, everything he understands and does suddenly falls into question and as she walks away, he thinks one thing – he must have her.
Running alongside this satirical look at masculinity and in particular Jon’s old fashioned attitudes to women is also two other very important themes, which Levitt masterfully ties together by the end of the film. Jon isn’t just a fan of sex, he is addicted to it, but in particular to pornography. He takes us through his reasons why this is probably better than real life sex; even if the tits and ass on a girl are great, he finds many aren’t that interested in giving him a blow job and why not considering he hasn’t any interest in going down on them either. Then comes condoms, the film is quite careful to never quite glorify sex in reality and he slightly shoe horns in, SAFE SEX – USE CONDOMS, which is fair considering the nature of the tale. But he finds condoms are bore whereas he doesn’t have to worry about that with porn. Finally, the variety of positions he can watch on screen is so much more interesting and eclectic than what girls really want to do in reality – so why not just enjoy the porn, for all it’s advantages?
Another theme, which runs concurrently is that of religion. Jon makes it very clear what his interests are, including his boys, his girls, his family, his pad and his religion. Without fail, every week he goes to church with his family for confession and he finds some sort of comfort in having his sins absolved. In a hilarious repeated motif, Jon recounts the number of sexual encounters out of wedlock he has had in the past week as well as the number of times he has masturbated to pornography; without fail, he is told to do a number of Hail Mary’s and then his sin is removed. Of course, he never learns and returns a week later to start the cycle again. A very interesting question is raised here about the removal of responsibility for our actions because of the belief that something bigger than us will forgive – of course Levitt is really highlighting the sheer hypocrisy of the religious but also that like routine, the church has no issue in forgiving as long as you turn up. Wonderfully, towards the end of the film, when he actually does give up porn, he explains this to the pastor who simply tells him to do 10 Hail Mary’s (as before) but when he questions the number he is simply told that he is forgiven and effectively to move along.
Levitt does a great job as Jon, a creepy, more pervy Joey from Friends. He is slick and filled with attitude but towards the end, actually learns something far more important about himself and the ways in which he uses sex. The highlight performance has to be from Johansson, who plays the gutsy Barbara with such flair and grace that you have to question whether this is a situation she is used to? From being a gushy romantic film fan, to an in control independent woman to finally a slightly psychotic freak, she gives Barbara so many intriguing dimensions that she is simply fascinating to watch. When Jon and Barbara really do come together, she forbids him from watching porn, which of course he finds difficult but he changes in other ways as well because of her – he goes back to school and starts to imagine what it could be like to fall in love. In class he meets, Esther, Moore’s character – a woman with more than she lets on. They grow close together and when she opens up about her life to Jon, he realises there is more than sex and porn but actually a basic instinct to survive.
Levitt’s filmmaking is interesting and wonderful to watch; he uses a great array of techniques to pursue his satirical side including cameos from Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum in the faked romantic film that Barbara takes Jon to see as well as the hyper sexualised fast food advertisement on the television. He is simply drumming home how ridiculous our attitudes are to sex these days and that even sex is used to advertise food!
Don Jon is a great little film, with a lot of potential. It’s funny, ridiculous, dramatic and on top of it all, challenging, making the audience really think. It sets up Levitt as a filmmaker and writer to watch for the future.