For a film about a guy who lies about his porn addiction, Don Jon is a surprisingly honest piece of filmmaking. It tackles the darkness of how the male mind works in a way that a dozen raunchy Frat Pack comedies combined couldn’t touch, and it does so with just as much wit and humor. Guys, pay attention, because there is a smart lesson at the heart of Don Jon. Girls (and some guys too), try not to swoon on Gordon-Levitt too hard — the man gets it.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the basics. Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is masculinity in a box. “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn,” is his mantra, played back with a New Jersey accent to really hammer it home. He’s both a ridiculous caricature of a man and immediately relatable. I suspect Gordon-Levitt drew this character with the goal of making the guys in the theater a little uncomfortable. He’s such a simple-minded douche, and yet, you know you’ve been on his wavelength at one point or another. If Dexter Morgan is a reflection on our own urges to kill, Don Jon is a reflection on our own urges to shamelessly objectify and beat off.
Jon’s routine is straightforward — go to the gym, eat dinner with the family, go to church, go out with his boys, take home a “dime” (a 10/10 on their booty rating scale), and then…sneak away to watch porn and masturbate. Jon doesn’t just like porn, he doesn’t just jerk off, he ritualizes it and prefers it to sex. He loses himself in porn and he loves it because the girls will do anything and everything. His denouncement of oral sex as a two-way street is just the tip of his iceberg of issues.
And then a girl comes along. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johanssen), is the girl that throws Jon off his game. She doesn’t have sex on the first date, or the tenth. She wants him to meet her family, and she wants to meet his. She certainly doesn’t want him watching porn and beating off ten times a day.
With the routine turned upside-down, the real heart of the film is revealed in some surprising ways. Don Jon doesn’t shy away from so much of what Hollywood seems to fear. Male arrested development is a comedy goldmine, but it’s rarely mined this expertly, and with a purpose and point to make.
Don Jon will inevitably be viewed by some as a problematic, even misogynistic piece of filmmaking. I read it as a first lesson in feminism from a male perspective. It paints its picture with vulgar, sloppy brushstrokes, but that’s exactly what a lot of guys need. In the last few years of social media and criticism we’ve been going whole hog exploring issues of objectification and misogyny, and quite frankly, it can be confusing and suffocating for guys, even if they genuinely want to take a feminist viewpoint. Don Jon is an inviting window to accepting feminism for confused, hormonal teenagers and 20-30-somethings stuck in their ways. It may seem gross, it may seem immature, it may even seem simple-minded, but I wholeheartedly believe the point sinks in better because it’s from a place a guy understands. The audible “huh” of understanding from one of the guys in the audience last night spoke volumes towards Don Jon’s effectiveness.
That the film is wrapped up in a funny, entertaining, confident package only helps to hammer it all home. It isn’t a perfect film — the pacing gets a little weird in the final act — but that’s just a wrinkle, an endearing flaw in an open and honest examination by a talented actor, writer, and director. Good show, JGL.