I have been a huge fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (or JGL to us cool people who hate using words) for several years now. While I never really had much love for 3rd Rock From The Sun I at least enjoyed it when it was on, but it has been his work since his "reappearance" in the early 2000s that has made me really take notice. One of my favorite films, and tough contender for the #1 spot on that list, is Brick and was my first glimpse at how much JGL puts into his craft. Now, 8 years after Brick was released, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is taking his turn behind the camera in his debut as both a writer and director of Don Jon.
Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) only really cares about a few things: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Known as "The Don" to his friends, Jon prides himself on his running streak of women he has had one-night stands, but also keeps it honest by admitting he enjoys masturbating to pornography better than having sex with an actual woman. Jon feels real women are a disappointment because pornographic actresses "do stuff real girls just won't do." Jon's streak, however, is threatened when he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) one night, and she refuses to give into his charms right away. Jon is willing to put in the time and effort required to woo this 10 into bed, but soon finds he enjoys being part of a couple. It isn't long, though, before Jon's pornography becomes an issue between the two of them and Jon must reevaluate how he has lived his life thus far and how to actually connect with another human being.
I had a difficult time coming up with an overview that wouldn't require me writing out the entire plot of the film in order to do it justice. This film is very smartly written and feels truly authentic in its voice and character. The story moves along at a very natural pace and truly feels like an anecdote being told by someone I have met instead of a movie. I think that is what one of the major draws I have to this movie is: it's not a romantic comedy. It's a movie that actually feels like life. Like 500 Days of Summer was "not a love story, but a story about love" Don Jon is not a movie about porn, but a movie about what porn has done to people. Having grown up in New Jersey I have met more than my fair share of Jon Martellos and Barbara Sugarmans in my day, but not just the stereotypical aspects of the characters. Yes, I have heard that accent plenty of times and am almost certain Mr. Gordon-Levitt had to have had personal contact with several people I knew in college to truly embody his character, but like the movie itself, the similarities are more than skin deep. Any guy who has had access to pornography since he went through puberty is a Don Jon in one way or another. My generation is currently plagued with a terrible confusion about love, sex, and relationships based on how each gender is raised to understand them. The film touches a lot on the idea that men still unknowningly, or even knowningly, objectify women thanks to all forms of media and advertising aimed at them make women into objects and sexist tropes, but it does also touch on the opposite. While not as prominent of a plot point as I would have liked, the movie also touches on the unhealthy expectations the character Barbara has based on the slew of romance films she has been exposed to from a young age as well. Obsessed with the Nicholas-Spark-style romantic drama, Barbara has been raised to believe that true love means a man doing anything and everything to be with a woman because that is true love. From bribing Jon into going to night school or meeting her family with sex to the all-pink-and-frills that is her childhood bedroom Barbara is the spoiled princess that makes up another large portion of my generation. Gordon-Levitt's script is so polished and streamlined that one has to wonder if this a personal story he wished to tell or if he is truly just that capable of a writer to bring such a poignant concept to the screen without feeling preach or false in it's presentation.
With a film such as Don Jon, character and story tend to be the main focus for it to have the proper effect, but JGL is no slouch when it comes to directing a film. Having worked with such modern greats as Christopher Nolan and Rian Johnson it is obvious that JGL has done his homework. The story calls for a more natural and true to life feel, and the visual direction of the film supports that. The film almost has a documentary feel at times with it's use handheld camera work and lack of extensive lighting set-ups during darker or night-time scenes. A clever editing choice is made using clips of the porographic videos Jon watches to show not only how he "loses himself" in them, as he claims, but also their hold on him when they keep popping into his head while out to dinner with Barbara after attempting to stop. Many shots are repeated through out the film, solidifying the repetitive nature of Jon's life in his objectifying mind set, but as he soon works to change himself the framing of the shots start to shift into seeing things differently as well. The only real uses of specific sound design used in the film is Jon's attraction to the start-up sound of his MacBook and the use of the Mac's "Recycling Bin" sound when Jon would dispose of...well, the evidence of his addiction.
Don Jon is clever, thoughtful, funny, and poignant with a story that is needed in the this age of instant gratification and warped expectations. With a solid script, even balance of fun and heart, and top-notch performances from it's principle and secondary cast alike; Don Jon proves that Joseph Gordon-Levitt truly can do anything he puts his mind to. Even if the movie ends up missing out on the recognition it deserves, it can at least start a conversation that has been needed for a long time among the younger generation.