'Don Jon' Movie Review: Porn, Fantasies, and Real People

Jon thinks that watching porn is the only time he loses himself completely. It's the most satisfying part of his day and he makes a point to watch it daily, like clockwork. Jon can't remember the last time he hasn't watched porn, except maybe back in middle school when he didn't have access to a computer, and even then he still had playboy magazines to ogle at. The fact that Jon has been indoctrinated since young adulthood to look at women, sex, and himself in one-sided and superficial terms has not occurred to him, nor could it. He hasn't been given a chance. In fact, without all the glossy images and videos Jon would find himself unable to get off, and at a loss for words if asked to explain why.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut feature film Don Jon is a hyper-realistic meditation on personal fantasies, and the ways they isolate us from ourselves and other people. It also works as a tangential look at how our culture diminishes, sexualizes and objectifies nearly everything— be that in the form of sandwich commercials or romantic comedies.

Gordon-Levitt plays the titular character, aptly named "The Don" by his boys because of his adept pick-up skills at the night club scene. The young actor packs on the muscle weight and adopts the shellacked hairstyle of Pauly D to enter into his role with verve and humor. Jon bumps into the "most beautiful thing I've seen in my life," his dime, Barbara Sugarman, played with equal skill by Scarlett Johansson. The two court and eventually settle into a relationship built on their personal fantasies of what they want the other to be. Jon looks for a girl willing to take him to the sexual heights porn brings him to, and Barbara looks for the self-sacrificing knight in shining armor she has come to expect after watching so many romantic films. In a relationship where the two partners are trying to construct a mirror out of the other person, something is doomed to shatter.

The supporting characters in Don Jon hold their own alongside Gordon-Levitt and Johansson. Tony Danza and Glenn Headly play Jon's parents in well crafted and funny supporting roles (you'll understand where Jon inherits his personality from) and Julianne Moore provides one of the film's more nuanced characters, a woman with a dark past, capable of providing a way out for Jon from his destructive fantasies.

Gordon-Levitt, as a director, has built up a repertoire of camera tricks and flourishes that heighten Jon's personal sense of reality. Taking directorial cues from his friend and colleague, Rian Johnson (Director of Brick and Looper), he successfully implements montage, time-lapse, and whip pans, among other techniques, to take us through Jon's personal odyssey, the film's style mimicking the glitzy media it serves to criticize. While potentially distracting, Gordon-Levitt finds the proper balance between the film's style and its underlying emotions, utilizing these techniques with proficiency. It is very effective.

Ultimately, reality begins to move in on Jon and Barbara's relationship and shatter their illusions of one another. The question that lingers is: have they been dependent for too long on these fantasies to function without them?


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