This review was originally published on January 29, 2013 and referenced the original title of Don Jon’s Addiction; Review has been edited to reflect the title change…
“Hey Joey! Look, it’s dat Batman kid jerkin’ it! Aye! Ohhhh!”
– inevitably an audience member in New Jersey after seeing “Don Jon”
“Don Jon,” the directorial debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a film whose characters are as much fixated on perception, perfection and objectification as the film itself. And that’s not a bad thing because underneath the very funny exterior of the film is an embedded look at how people obsess on perfection or the impossible, and as a result miss out on truly connecting with anything in their lives.
In the film Levitt plays Jon Martello, an immaculate, pristine Jersey boy who earns the nickname “Don Jon” due to his Don Juan ways of scoring a perfect girl to take home every weekend. The relationships are purely sexual and simply for a one night as, every single time, Jon feels like the sex is a huge letdown. Partially due to his own impossible standards in women and sex but also due to his true passion in life: porn.
Jon loves the simple pleasure of watching porn where the girls are perfect in every way…including the fact you click a button to get rid of them before any reality, talk or snuggling has to happen. In many ways, Levitt’s Jon is a kinder, less insane version of Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho” right down to his perfectly coifed hair, toned body and daily/weekly routines that keep his life moving exactly how he wants them to. That is until the night he meets not just a ten but an eleven in bodacious Jersey girl Barbara (Johansson).
Barbara holds out on Jon and uses sex (or, lack thereof) to bend him to her will including getting him to change little things in his life to be how she wants them to be. Barbara is every bit as obsessed with having things her way as Jon, even to the point owhere she demands he quit watching porn or else the relationship is over. Jon will do anything to keep this idea of “the perfect woman” as his girl and soon he’s unknowingly choking on the taste of his own medicine.
“Don Jon” is not only very funny, it’s also extremely clever. As I mentioned, we see these characters obsessed with perfection and yet their lives are miserable. Even the characters in the film play into our perceptions of them. Jon and his bros seem ripped from the outtakes of “Jersey Shore” and Jon’s parents (Danza, Headley) are equally cartoonish. They bark and bray like every single Jersey parent you’ve seen in a movie but I felt that, here, these characterizations were a choice to play into audience expectations rather than a cheap laugh.
Much like Jon and his peers have a rather shortsighted mindset as to what people should be like and how they should behave, the film creates characters that are stereotypes which we can easily digest but are not “real” people. Then again, I’ve never been to New Jersey so maybe every single person really is as they seem on TV. But we all know that can’t be true. Just as the goals and standards for young Barbara and Jon and their friends and family can’t be true. Which is why when Jon finally figures out what Barbara is up to, his character’s change is believable and almost powerful. This is due mostly to his meeting of a fellow student, the down-to-earth Esther (Moore).
“Don Jon” features some great performances. In many ways Levitt is the straight man to the crazies around him and he plays his role with an easy yet shallow confidence. I often find myself wondering if Scarlett Johansson has the goods as an actress but her role here and her recent turn as Janet Leigh in “Hitchcock” have me convinced. In both films, she delivers nuanced performances that almost make you forget she’s Scarlett Johansson. Almost.
But the real breakout performance here, and I swear I’m typing this straight-faced, is Tony Danza as Jon’s dad. He pulls off the angry Jersey dad with perfection but it never feels stagey or like “Tony Danza is playing an a*****e Jersey dad.” This is an actual great performance and I’d be shocked if we didn’t start seeing more of Danza in solid roles in independent films. He’s great here. And his performance also gives us insight into how Jon ended up the way he did. However the real emotional grounding point for the film is Julianne Moore as a sad yet hopeful woman dealing with issues so deep they truly serve to show how vapid Jon and his friends wants and needs are.
“Don Jon” isn’t what you think it’s going to be, yet it is. On the surface, it’s a funny comedy about becoming a man while faced with all the issues surrounding people from New Jersey (at least, as we’re lead to believe from the media). But also what young people face due to our current media. Porn has never been more free and accessible and, as a country, we value money, winning and looks over intelligence, hard work and humbleness. The wrong message is sent out everyday in every way and, eventually, it has its consequences. “Don Jon” takes a look at these societal issues but also makes them funny which is a good way to help them sink into the population at large.