Don Jon is actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing/directing feature-length debut, and while it may not be the strongest film this year, it is certainly laudable for its ambition and style. The film functions primarily as a satire of contemporary cultural sex and gender cues. It does this primarily through examining its lead character’s pornography habit and his unpreparedness for meaningful relationships.
Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a consumate North Jersey “bro.” Everything in his life, from his apartment to his car, and even his friends serves to cultivate an image of masculinity emulating social cues. His family, church, and pursuing women are important too, but it largely feels like he is going through the motions, except when pleasuring himself while watching porn. Levitt fills Jon’s routine with flashy smash cuts and quick editing, and this reinforces how dazed Jon feels on the inside.
All of this seems to be threatened when Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) walks into Jon’s life. Immediately assessing her as a “dime,” Jon tries his usual moves on her and is rebuffed. Of course, this leads to a romantic comedy-like obsession, and as Barbara refuses to be a one night stand, Jon’s desire to have her leads Barabara to fix him. He starts taking classes and vows that he has given up porn. Thankfully the film allows all of this to go awry, and the film plays with familiar tropes to explore the impact on our lives.
Barbara loves romantic comedies, and the film shows her fantasy worlds, populated by Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway, may be just as insidious as the pornstars on Jon’s computer. The film clearly sets up this dichotomy, but it never really adds up to anything in the film itself.
We also see a lot of Jon’s family, and it’s very easy to see how his father (Tony Danza) has influenced his attitudes toward women. There are also generous hints about Jon’s compulsive behavior seen in his mother (Glenne Headly) and sister (Brie Larson).
While ostensibly a character study, I found the entire film to be overly cold and mechanical. The characters are basically archetypes, but the film succeeds at dissecting those archetypes and combining them in interesting ways. The film is stylish and raises interesting points, but it never explores anything deep enough for an emotional payoff.
Don Jon opens today in Philly area theaters.