By Simon Miraudo
February 11, 2014
In Don Jon, the feature directorial debut of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the first to be released under his Hit Record label, a twenty-something New Jersey native must choose between his all-consuming internet porn addiction and a functional relationship with another human being. Gordon-Levitt plays the title character, whilst Scarlett Johansson, in Jersified-Jessica Rabbit mode, plays the woman who dares steal him away from his, erm, hobby. If this conundrum were posed during a game of ‘Would You Rather,’ the conversation it incited would be pretty brief. In its current form – buried in a comparatively-epic 90 minute motion picture – well, let’s just say the subject is well and truly milked beyond the point of anyone still finding it interesting.
Jon balances his frequent porn-hub-hopping with gym, church, family dinners, and clubbing, where he’s able to pick up a real-life person for some unsatisfactory sex. It’s only when one of his would-be conquests, Barbara (Johansson), refuses to give it up on their first night of meeting that he agrees to at least feign an interest in an ongoing relationship. He takes her to romantic movies, hangs out with her friends, starts going to night school, and introduces her to his fawning mother (Glenne Headley), wifebeater-wearing dad (Tony Danza), and disinterested sister (Brie Larson). She repays him with dry-humpings so ferocious she practically wears through his jeans. Ah, love. When Barbara discovers one evening Jon’s secret shame (after they’ve finally – and functionally – done the deed), she presents him with an ultimatum: choose her or the laptop. I cannot promise you’ll be invested in the outcome.
The film – also penned by Jo-Go – believes it’s defying rom-com expectations by revealing Barbara to be a controlling, largely-unpleasant shrew. (Damn that succubus for wanting a partner even half as involved in the relationship as she is!) It instead introduces Julianne Moore‘s enigmatic Esther, a classmate of Jon’s, as a more viable partner. Whatever “credit” the movie earns for making the radiant, 53-year-old Moore our desired mate for Jon (particularly in a cinematic landscape populated by actresses under 30), it loses by tarring women as a whole with a supremely unflattering brush. Johansson is scintillating in her part, and sympathetic where possible, but it’s so hard to take seriously a character who would literally threaten to break up with someone because he likes cleaning his house (which is a conversation that actually happens). The movie similarly thinks very little of young men, Italian-Americans, monogamous couples, Catholics, and people in general. You have to wonder why such a bitter, emotionally tone-deaf exercise would be expected to please anyone. The only group seemingly left unscathed by Gordon-Levitt’s barbs: the porn industry, bizarrely let off the hook despite their own, massive institutional issues.
I’ll give this to Gordon-Levitt: he directs enthusiastically, and his film moves along at a bristling pace (having Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s anthem ‘Good Vibrations’ on the soundtrack helps keep things pumping). So little of this feels like it has a basis in real relationships though: ultimatums are thrown around so often, and solutions are solely of the “no duh” variety. Wondering what exactly is revealed as a cure to Don Jon’s addiction? Why, good sex, of course! Thanks, geniuses!
Don Jon will be available on Quickflix from February 13, 2014.