Joseph Gordon-Levitt took on a pretty dicey subject for his filmmaking debut (he wrote, directed and stars!), and came up with an unusual and entertaining film. Starring as the title character, Jon, a porn addict who is looking for love in all the wrong places, Gordon-Levitt brings a depth to his character that could easily have been pretty off-putting. On the surface, Jon is just a working class Jersey boy who likes to hang with his buddies and pick up girls for one-night stands, objectifying them all and comparing their hook-ups with his ideal women on the web. That is until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johannson.)
She’s the first woman he’s ever fallen in love with, and he tries to do whatever he can to make her happy, including watching a bunch of chick flicks with her, introducing her to his friends, and even taking her to his parents’ house for dinner. And it’s all going really well until she finds him watching porn and flips out. So he tells her he’s quit. But really, he’s just watching on his phone and when she isn’t around. And that’s how he meets Esther (Julianne Moore), an older woman in his night school class. Esther sees him watching on his phone and informs him that the relationships in the porn he watches are unreal, and despite his initial misgivings, the two of them become friends. And when Barbara snoops on Jon’s computer history and finds that he is still very much watching what she calls “the porno”, she dumps him for good. His relationship with Esther deepens and is surprisingly based on a kind of honesty that he has with no one else. Perhaps it is the fact that she is more mature, but she is able to make him see what his addiction is and why it will keep him unhappy unless he rises above it. Don’t worry, it’s not a 12 step program, but emotional connection that gets him there.
Throughout Don Jon, Don faithfully goes to confession and owns up to his one-nighters and porn watching. It’s a clever device for keeping track of his progress and honesty. And some of it is pretty funny. But below the surface there is an interesting message in this film about the ways that women are portrayed not just in porn but in media in general and how that skews male expectations, and in a similar fashion creates a false sense of romance for us gals with our favorite chick flicks. As funny as the film may be, it is not for the prudish. There are lots of screen shots from Jon’s computer that are just shy of pornographic. But it is a very creative first feature from one of our favorite young actors, and I look forward to his next one. And aren’t we happy that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not just another pretty face!