Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 2013)

Don Jon marks Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial and screenwriting debut. He seems like a pretty awesome guy so I was interested to see what he would offer up in his first film. However, my expectations weren’t super high considering it was a straight-to-DVD release in Australia. The film starts with Jon introducing himself over voiceover, and the few things he really cares about: his body, his pad, his car, his family, his church, his boys (friends) his ‘girls’ (read: one-night stands), and his porn. And that’s pretty much what the film is about: his porn addiction.  I did wonder at first, why exactly did JGL – a self-proclaimed feminist – choose this subject matter for his first feature film? It seemed like a somewhat unusual choice, although I’m sure it got many pervy guys’ bums on seats so maybe not a bad marketing decision.

There was (unsurprisingly given that it’s JGL) a clear message about pornography being unrealistic and objectifying, and a strain on healthy sexual relationships. I appreciated that, and now it seems so obvious why he chose this subject matter. There was also some attention paid to the sexualisation of women in everyday society and how this affects some men’s attitudes to females. This included a moment where a mother calls over her young daughter (probably around five years old) at a party so that she can reapply her lipstick. A ridiculously over the top television advertisement is also shown which would have been almost funny if I hadn’t then read afterwards that it was an actual ad aired during the Super Bowl once. Jesus Christ. Society is a joke.

Great dress... or not
Great dress… or not

It might have been a better film if the characters hadn’t been so caricaturish/ stereotypical. For starters, JGL and Scarlett Johansson’s New Jersey accents were just SO over the top. And then his whole “all I care about is my ride, my girls, my church,” etc. was just: urgh. It was so clichéd dickhead. It makes sense to care about these things but his whole attitude to it was gross and I think he must have had a very loose definition of the word ‘care’. And his STRUT. Oh man he was pretty slimy (props for playing a different role to usual though). Scarlett Johansson played Barbara, the Jersey girl with the clichéd nails, big earrings and questionable fashion sense. There’s a scene where she gets really upset and embarrassed by Jon in a store when he wants to buy cleaning products because she thinks that a man shouldn’t clean (he should hire a cleaner apparently). I mean, REALLY? Women like this EXIST? It was the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard.

Hot actors playing gross characters
Hot actors playing gross characters

Jon’s father was played by TONY DANZA and I haven’t even seen Who’s The Boss but I just don’t think you can take him seriously. The mother was also OTT. And then Brie Larson (United States of Tara, The Spectacular Now, Short Term 12) played Jon’s sister who spends ALL of her scenes looking at her phone. She has one line in the entire film. Brie Larson is a rising star! Why did she do this role? And I get that there are PLENTY of teenagers who spent all their time on their phones but it was just so exaggerated. Maybe these characters DO exist, but they just didn’t seem at all REAL. Julianne Moore was perhaps the only genuine character out of the lot, but she sort of came out of nowhere and it felt a bit contrived. I usually hate the whole ‘contrived’ criticism because all films have to be contrived really, but her story arc was almost a bit too transparent.

Tony Danza. Not to be taken seriously.
Tony Danza. Not to be taken seriously.

There was a lot of repetition in this film. And by that I mean, there was a lot of repetition in this film. And did I mention, there’s a lot of repetition in this film. That’s what is started to feel like. Like, OK, WE GET IT. He has a gym routine and he’s always in a bad mood when he’s driving (read: sexual frustration = road rage), no need to hammer us over the head with it. We have to watch him walk through the gym corridor about four or five times. It turns out it did serve a purpose though, in that —minor spoiler alert— his regular routines and attitudes start to change when he starts to wean off the porn and appreciate a proper relationship more. So I guess the repetition was warranted. It was just too obvious.

"I am God"
“I am God”

The acting was good. It felt weird to be so UNattracted to JGL. He’s usually so loveable and charming. So I suppose he did well. Scarlett Johansson was very good and totally different here to anything I’ve ever seen her in before. She usually plays relatively sophisticated characters but not so much here. I was impressed by her. I also liked Julianne Moore. As for all the other actors, they weren’t bad but they didn’t amaze me either. Brie Larson: why???

All in all, it wasn’t as terrible as you might expect for a film about a loser with a porn addiction. In fact I do want to pat JGL on the back for bringing attention to an important issue re: the sexualisation of women. I believe he has made a great move in creating a film that on the outer would appeal to the sexist men who frequently objectify women (“oh a movie about porn: it’s on the list!”) which can then serve to hopefully hold up a mirror and possibly educate such individuals (although I suspect I may be asking a bit much here). I appreciated the concept but I think it slightly faltered in its execution. It had some interesting themes, some great leading performances, and it did sustain my attention (and I’m often pretty useless at fully concentrating on DVDs). But it also wasn’t as good as you might expect for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial and screenwriting debut and it was let down by the caricaturish nature of the characters. It was just reasonable. I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out and rent it, but you could still do much worse.

3 stars

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