I’m sure the figures would support that statement, though my cursory research (which I expected to be ample) did not come up with clean numbers. One I found particularly humorous was this: “Regular church attenders are 26% less likely to look at porn than non-attenders, but those self-identified as “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn.” Who doesn’t enjoy a little hypocrisy. Though it does figure quite neatly into one of the arguments Don Jon (2013) is making. The film begins with a montage of the inordinately sexual commercial campaigns that use female flesh for their product, including film and television. This breeds objectification, which reduces empathy, which creates chauvinism–not necessarily or instantly, but it happens and comes out of innate carnal desires–and chauvinism and selfishness have a strong correlation with porn.
There are only a few things important to Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). His body, his pad, his ride, his family, and his porn. He’s thought a lot about it and he’s got strong views on the subject. “Unlike porn, [interacting with women] can kill you.” But he doesn’t do too badly so far as real-life conquests are concerned. He may be one dirty mustache away from being in a gay motorcycle gang, but in Jersey he’s a helluva catch. Jon’s buddies call him “The Don” for his abilities. They go to the bar most nights and cruise for chicks, unabashedly scoring their three key features for attractiveness. Usually, he takes a girl home, takes care of his own business, goes to church to confess his sins, and turns those sins into muscle by using Our Fathers and Hail Marys to determine his reps. Amen!
One night at the club, in walks a dime by the name of Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). After an initial rebuff, Jon goes in search of her and finally gets a relationship started. Now, this is odd behavior for Jon who doesn’t particularly like the real thing, but he’s got pride and that means a desire for conquest. But she takes it slow, meet the friends, meet the folks, get him on track for a real job, but then she catches him watching his porn and that’s a real problem. He promises not to watch any more, but that’s going to be difficult.
If you know much at all about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you know that he’s a talented guy. He’s got musical ability, his acting is undeniably competent (and many would go beyond that), and he’s got ambitions and curiosity in other arenas with his art collaboration website hitRECord.org. I’m a believer in the JG-L, but even I was surprised by how excellent Don Jon turned out to be and he shined on every level. His performance, though not as deep as 50/50 (2011), is perhaps his most dedicated character work. For casting, bringing in Glenne Headly and Tony Danza was inspired. But his screenplay was his greatest achievement. The dialogue is absolutely hilarious until it has to be something else and then it goes and does that too. For structure, message, and character? Fuhgeddaboudit. And why don’t we give a round of applause for bringing the whole thing together with pitch perfect sound and editing. If you were worried about this being his first movie, you can stop worrying. You might worry that his next stuff won’t be this good, but that’s something else.
Here’s something funny a guy said at the screening. “Awful! It’s like Closer (2004). All that sex.” Now, if you’ve seen Closer you either know it to be one of the best movies you’ve ever seen or you’re an idiot. But he’s right in that there is a lot of sex in the form of porn clips quickly edited to give the impression of time Jon spends and establish a running gag of his preoccupation with the medium. Unlike Closer, there is never any real menace brewing. This isn’t Shame (2011). At the same time, I for one never found those clips to be anything more than the plot conveyed. Maybe it’s just that I can’t sit in a theater full of people and see two seconds of bouncing womanhood and be distracted. If it were a character that would be different. That nudity (usually) breaks a spell because (often) it’s gratuitous and makes me aware of myself in the theater. Basically the same reason why Jon thinks porn is better than the real thing: he can’t lose himself in the real world, but can when he’s watching it by himself. And Jon makes that very point to Barbara about her love of those chick flicks. But, of course, Barbara doesn’t think it’s the same because sexual desire is different from nebulous wish-fulfillment by paid actors doing things with one another that rarely happens to you in real life.
No, it’s not Closer and it’s not Shame. The film that Don Jon most resembles is last year’s sweetheart, Silver Linings Playbook (2012) with a bit of Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) thrown in. Jersey is different from Philadelphia in the amount of layered cosmetics people find acceptable, so that working-class, boorish humor is virtually identical to Silver Linings Playbook except Don Jon is a little sharper, relying on the language more than the oddness of the characters. Because the characters in Don Jon are not odd at all, they’re very normal and perfectly genuine. That realism surpasses Silver Linings Playbook‘s rather copious use of the everything’s-gunna-work-out feeling. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are perfect for each other, if he would only see. I liked both movies, but honestly the superficiality of the situation was glossed over by the charisma of the leads and the honesty of their psychological problems. Don Jon definitely has more to say about typical relationships. They traded.
Where Don Jon can be fairly criticized is in the speed of Jon’s turnaround. He had clearly gotten to an unhealthy point of psychological dependence with pornography for the workings of his generation apparatus while remaining roughly as objectifying as the average consumer. So, roughly speaking, he’d been Pavloved rather than desensitized. But, he was still an average consumer from Jersey with the manly father, the dutiful mother, and the religious upbringing he had, so how does he give up the greaseball look and become a healthy, unselfish, enlightened man of the 21st century when faced with the truth? It takes a little practice not to be self-centered. Where did the empathy come from?
I just noticed, looking at IMDb, that the runtime is 90 minutes. To be as full a film as it is in emotion and plot, that is an incredible accomplishment.
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