Don Jon is the story of Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a New Jersey bartender in his 20s who has a sweet ride, is ripped, and spends his weekends “pulling 10s at the club” with his boys, then hitting church with the family to expunge his sins and get ready for another go. Another thing—Jon is addicted to pornography. He can’t remember the last time he went a day without porn or masturbation, and he enjoys it so much that all the real sex he gets weekly from one night stands pales in comparison to the way he can “lose himself” in the fantastic spectacle of his favorite porn. Since no casual sex partner ever gives him the type of experience he craves, Jon decides that maybe it’s time to pursue a relationship.
Jon decides to pursue an ideal “10” woman, Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), and after a comedic sequence of vaguely stalker-ish investigation, Jon gets Barbara to go on a few dates with him, and then be his girlfriend. However, he finds that, despite her beauty and loving nature, this idealized woman still fails to satisfy him completely, both in the bedroom and beyond. A particularly hilarious scene involves Barbara, having rebuffed an invitation to have sex early in their relationship, drive Jon to the point of ecstasy through kissing, pressing… and begging him to resume night classes at a local college.
Jon’s dissatisfaction with Barbara and his own sex life drives the conflict of the plot. That is only compounded when he begins a hesitant friendship with an older woman at his night classes (Julianne Moore!), who brings a more mature and insightful perspective into his life. It’s a fun ride, and Gordon-Levitt’s [surprisingly] lively writing deftly captures the colloquial speech of a couple young bucks kickin’ it at the club, as well as the comedic redundancy with which parents of 20-somethingers speak.
It’s a funny movie, not simply because its subject matter elicits few nervous giggles, but in large part because Gordon-Levitt really nails it; he is at once an everyman and an idol. The good natured way in which he explains his habits, his problems, and even the way he lies to his girlfriend about not watching porn are all spot on, relatable, and endearing. Also, cameos from stars like Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum as hammy actors in the rom-coms that Barbara is addicted to are hilarious. The only grating thing about the actors are Gordon-Levitt’s and Johansson’s accents. They just sound fake and annoying, though maybe I just haven’t heard enough thick Jersey accents.
The movie is meant to critique its characters and discuss porn, which it does fairly well— yet it stops short of actually being critical. It succeeds in making us question Jon’s maturity: he claims to not be addicted when he clearly is, he only wants to pursue a relationship to craft a situation where he can ostensibly get frequent, customized sexual experiences for the price of the label “love.” The subtle “boys-will-be-boys” misogyny of the men in the movie is showcased and somewhat lambasted. For example, as Jon and Barbara visit his family, Jon only ever makes eye contact with his father, and puffs up proud like a peacock. And porn, while initially depicted as harmless, fun, and even therapeutic, eventually is suggested to create unreal standards and instill one-sided sexual habits that don’t satisfy one’s partner. Good—but what’s missing?
Gordon-Levitt suggests that ridiculous romances are, perhaps, porn (which “every guy” watches) for women, in that they present an unattainable relationship ideal. Perhaps the addictions, and flaws that come with them, are comparable?
The movie alludes to the objectification present in porn, yet never condemns it, just suggests that a more fruitful experience lies elsewhere. The movie never overtly states the crux of the reason why unabashed porn addiction, and objectification of women, are harmful and unfair. While romance movies are another form of escapism, casting men as devoted Romeos, willing to brave hill and dale to reach their loved maiden, is nowhere near as harmful as constructing a mythic whore/virgin sex object that is literally unattainable for anyone, ever. An interest in porn can be part of healthy sexual appetites, yet porn is more harmful than similar sexual escapes because of the misogyny and racism present there (of course, all the women in Jon’s porn are white, and the way women of color are referred to in porn is pretty sick). When Jon finally learns to be a better lover through another woman, it entails swearing off porn, as she has, save for a few beautiful softcore scenes from the 1970s.
Overall, though, it’s a good movie. It’s funny, relatable, well cast and acted, and, while it leaves a bit to be desired, is still far more honest than most other movies. Go watch it, if only to chuckle at the audience’s awkward nervousness toward the realer sex scenes depicted toward the film’s end, in stark contrast to the airbrushed silliness everyone felt ok laughing at before.