You know you’re in for something different when the first line of the film you’re watching is about how the sound of a Mac booting up gets the main character all hot and bothered.
The main character spouting the line is the titular Jon, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the film. He’s a Guido-type, constantly working out, driving around muscle cars, and hooking up with girls at the club. But the difference between ol’ Don Jon and the rest of the gelled, tanned bros out there is he is obsessed with porn. Like, 10-times-a-day obsessed. But when he meets Scarlett Johansson, a hottie he wants to actually (gasp) date, will he leave his smutty addiction behind or will it be a little more complicated than that?
Yeah, that’s the plot. Based on a plot outline and the (really quite bad) trailer, Don Jon looked like an awful, awful film. But, since good ol’ JGL has never let me down before (admittedly, I never saw that one where he’s on a life-or-death bicycle race), I decided to give it a shot, especially considering the film is his first effort behind the camera.
Luckily, Don Jon isn’t a quirky romantic comedy about how true love conquers the devilish porn industry. I mean, it kind of is. But it’s mostly a satire, critiquing our current society’s hypersexualization and objectification of women, the desensitization and false expectations this breeds, and the devoid lifestyle a lot of us lead. While at times it’s painfully obvious, it’s also often pretty effective and funny.
Actually, it’s hilarious here and there. It’s incredibly over-the-top while still being frighteningly close to true dialogue guys are having and hearing on an everyday basis. It’s also crass as all get out, and if you’re looking for a cute date movie for Valentine’s Day in a couple weeks, you’re about as well off watching actual porn together. Unless you just know your significant other finds listening to JGL go into explicit detail about taking care of himself (ahem) incredibly romantic.
The film becomes less of a crude satire and more of a heartfelt, legitimate piece of work when Julianne Moore (Crazy Stupid Love, The Kids Are All Right) comes along and actually talks to Don Jon about something other than sex. I’m not sure what side of the film I prefer: the first half is a lot more fun, but I guess the whole thing would seem rather pointless and one-note if JGL just kept on pleasuring himself for 90 minutes. Plus, Moore is really good (as she always is), and the film never gets preachy as it easily could have.
Don Jon isn’t a perfect piece of work by any means. JGL’s message is muddled here and there, and ScarJo’s character is obnoxious and lacking in any and all characterization. But it’s a solid directorial debut for one of the best actors of our generation, and it even gives off some Woody Allen and Edgar Wright vibes here and there. So if you’re feeling like watching a vulgar coming-of-age story involving a lot of masturbation, not only is Don Jon likely your only choice, it’s a pretty good one as well.