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Don Jon

Posted by martinteller on October 1, 2013

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the film) is a bartender, a New Jersey paisan whose routine includes working out at the gym, going to church, hanging with his boys, picking up girls for easy sex, and a lot of masturbating to internet porn.  He even prefers the porn to actual sex, which doesn’t live up to his video fantasies.  Then he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a girl he feels is worth more than the one-night-stand she won’t give him.  His porn addiction threatens to drive a wedge between them, but Jon finds assistance from a mysterious oddball woman (Julianne Moore) in the night class that Barbara encouraged him to take.

I went into this with low expectations.  From the trailer, I anticipated a rather predictable and formulaic romcom with only the emphasis on pornography to distinguish it from any other.  So I was quite pleased to find JGL had something else in mind, and took the story to unexpected places.  Along the way, he makes some fairly astute observations about intimacy that are usually lacking from Hollywood romances.  And the porn angle does make it different.  Thankfully, the movie doesn’t get too preachy about pornography (maybe a little bit, but most of today’s porn is truly awful and soulless, from my experience), instead making it clear that Jon has a very specific problem with it.  Although the original title, Don Jon’s Addiction, is too on-the-nose, it does emphasize that it’s not necessarily the porn that’s the issue, but the protagonist’s relationship to it.

One element of the film that our discussion group disagreed on was the repetition.  Throughout the movie, Jon’s routine is repeated several times… home, porn, car, church, gym, friends, girls.  Some found this repetition tiresome and thought it could have been reduced, or done with more variation to make it interesting.  I really enjoyed the formality of the structure, and would be interested to examine it more closely and see how rigid JGL is in conforming to the same sequence, angles, and shot lengths each time.  As Jon’s character arc changes, returning to the same routine highlights the development of his attitude within the rigid framework.  If nothing else, it’s a reasonably clever device… actually reminiscent of Jeanne Dielman, in a far more easily digestible format.

The script is also pretty funny at times, although I question the decision to build these characters in the mold of “Jersey Shore” stereotypes.  It comes off as condescending and cheap.  There are knuckleheads in every culture, we don’t need strained accents (or Tony Danza’s clownish performance) to set the tone.  Eventually you get used to it, but I found it mildly distracting for much of the film.

JGL shows promise in his debut feature as writer and director.  It’s not a brilliant movie, but it’s a surprisingly insightful and even nuanced one.  Rating: Good (77)


2 Responses to “Don Jon”

  1. JamDenTel said

    Definitely a pleasant surprise for me, too–I had a few issues with it (the Jersey setting being one of them), but I really have to give JGL credit for achieving a tone that you really don’t see in Hollywood movies. It’s very hard to describe, but this film FEELS very different. Also, I thought the ending was quite touching (and Julianne Moore’s performance was a big reason why).

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