JGL's 'Don Jon' Has The Full Package
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 19:09
It is rare that a film captures the dynamics of contemporary society—the last film to successfully do this being 2010’s The Social Network. In his directorial and written debut Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is pitch-perfect in his portrayal of the modern man.
Jon claims he cares about few things in life: church, the gym, his apartment, friends, and last but certainly not least, porn. Jon is respected by his friends (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) purely for his skill at attracting good-looking women and getting them into bed before moving onto the next “dime.” Despite bedding a different woman every time he goes out, however, Jon can’t help but prefer porn to the real thing. He tells us exactly why and appears to have no desire to change his ways—after all, “every guy watches porn.” When Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) catches Jon’s eye, however, his lifestyle is tested by her initial refusal to sleep with him, followed by her controlling behavior and wish for a romantic relationship just like the ones in the movies (a poster of Titanic adorns her bedroom wall). Jon further questions his addiction when Esther (Julianne Moore), a middle-aged student at his night class, becomes intrigued by him. This is certainly not a “bad guy makes good and gets the girl” story, though—Gordon-Levitt may indulge our stereotypes about the guidos and guidettes that frequent New Jersey but he rarely allows the audience to feel at ease, testing the limits of what a romantic comedy can be.
Yes, there is a proliferation of pornographic images because this is a film about a man’s addiction to porn, but with the opening montage of the sexualized images shown every day in music videos, advertisements, and TV shows, it is clear that Gordon-Levitt does not simply want an excuse to show sex on the big screen. This opening is just the first of many allusions in Don Jon to modern society and what has become acceptable in recent years. For instance, Jon initiates a relationship with Barbara mainly because he couldn’t convince her to have a one-night stand with him. But once he gets what he wants he appears to remain in the relationship because society has suggested to him that a stunning woman should be kept hold of regardless of their chemistry or personality compatibility. Johansson does well in playing a New Jersey princess, constantly chewing gum and believing she will find her very own Noah from The Notebook—and no, he won’t be watching porn. In other words, if you couldn’t stand Johansson in Girl With a Pearl Earring, you’ll respect her after watching Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt has also roped in some brilliant actors to support his interpretation of modern day romance: look out for Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum particularly.
The star of this film may appear to be Gordon-Levitt, but Lauren Zuckerman’s editing is what makes Don Jon truly special. The story revolves around the pattern of Jon’s life: time and again we see him go to a club, meet his friends, leave with a girl, later confess how many times he has had sexual intercourse out of wedlock or watched porn, and then say his Hail Marys while at the gym—and then, most importantly, turn on his computer to hear the Apple start-up sound and find that perfect video. This repetition drives the narrative and the editing succeeds in not only making these motifs funnier each time the audience encounters them, but in giving each pattern in Jon’s life a significance when they are altered even slightly as his story progresses. This technique is certainly bettered by the decision to use a lot of face-on shots to tie in with Jon’s voiceover, making what should be an unlikeable protagonist complex and somewhat charming.
Perhaps what makes Don Jon so brilliant is how real it feels. It plays with stereotypes, but those moments when Jon is simply interacting with his friends or family feel relatable and are hilarious. Many have compared Don Jon to Steve McQueen’s impressive film Shame because of the subject matter, but it could be argued that Gordon-Levitt has managed to create a more affecting narrative because of those touches of humor based in the everyday, not in the realm of the dramatic.