Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his feature film writing and directing debut on this film, also casting himself in the lead role of Jon, an arrogant and materialistic young man whose primary activities are going to the gym and then going out clubbing in the search for meaningless one night stands. He’s so good at scoring these trysts that his friends call him The Don, as in Don Juan.
But Jon has an addiction. Other members of his family are wrapped up in technology in their own way – his father rarely takes his eyes off his big screen television, his sister is always enrapt with her smartphone – but Jon’s addiction involves him giving his complete attention to his laptop screen in the comfort of his own apartment. Like many young men of his generation, Jon is addicted to internet porn.
With porn as accessible as it is these days, and in such abundance, the world is probably going to see more and more guys who feel the way Jon does – that watching porn is better than actually having sex. Porn presents more intense scenarios, more visual stimuli (the camera gets better angles than eyes during the act), the fantasy is better than the protection-wrapped reality. He dedicates his time to porn at least twice a day, and even on nights when he has had sex with a random girl he just met, he still gets in some porn watching.
Of course, there is no story if Jon doesn’t start to get himself turned around in life. The change comes in the form of “a dime” (that means her looks are a ten out of ten) he meets at the club, Scarlett Johansson as Barbara Sugarman. Barbara is no easy one night stand, she holds out on getting intimate until it will mean something. Jon is so attracted to her that he leaves the player life behind and pursues a relationship with Barbara, who turns out to be very controlling and vehemently anti-porn. As part of her endeavor to change who he is, she gets him to enroll in college, where he meets an emotionally unstable older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore), who also starts to work her way into Jon’s life.
I find Gordon-Levitt to be one of the best young actors working today, and he further proves that he is with Don Jon, by making a character who I wouldn’t be able to stand being around for 90 seconds in real life interesting to watch for the movie’s 90 minute running time. I don’t particularly like the character’s personality, and yet I become invested in watching his story play out.
Gordon-Levitt also did a great job behind the scenes, crafting a good script and capably bringing it to the screen, surrounding himself with a fantastic supporting cast. Beyond Johansson and Moore, the ensemble playing Jon’s family are also especially notable – Tony Danza as the father with a hair-trigger temper, Glenne Headly as the mom who wants her son to find love, and Brie Larson as his sister, who is sort of like this film’s version of Silent Bob. All she does is quietly look at her phone throughout the movie, occasionally lifting her eyes to look at a family member when something that’s said catches her attention, and then in the final moments she speaks, dropping a line of dialogue that reveals she had a deeper read on what’s been going on in the characters’ lives than anyone else.
An engaging examination of love, intimacy and the modern male with a certain inclination, Don Jon is a fantastic character study drama and a commendable debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, filmmaker.