(Photo: Whattalking.com, Picasa)
Immediately after watching Don Jon at its midnight premiere, I said to myself, “What the heck did I just watch.”
Albeit, the movie was funny. It had this dark, tongue-in-cheek kind of humor that I respect and was used in all the right places. And, as this was writer-actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, he does a good job in not trying to be taken too seriously. Rather, we get him playing title Jersey Shore-ian player Jon Martello, dubbed “Don Jon” by his friends who he goes to clubs with every night to pick up girls, only caring about his body, his pad, his ride, his family, church, friends, and porn. Though, as many women as he may sleep with every night, nothing seems to give him more of a thrill than watching his porn.
As we meet bodacious-beauty Barbara Sugarman, the “dime” on his hotness scale of 1-10, who is played by the equally beautiful Scarlett Johansson, Jon finds himself waiting on her by hand-and-foot. It is the anticipation that keeps him hooked, as she even brings him to watch a romantic movie with her on their first date–featuring hilarious cameo roles by Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum–as she devours it up almost as equally well as Jon does his porn.
It is at this moment that JGL successfully illustrates the unrealistic idealized visions of love and sex that both genders hastily eat up.
(Photo: Linda Kallerrus, Relativity Media)
In an interview with USA Today, JGL mentions, “Scarlett does get reduced to that oftentimes in our culture. As I’ve gotten to know her, she’s a super-smart person, a really talented artist, and yet a lot of what gets talked about is her looks. That’s a big part of what Don Jon is poking fun at.” He adds, “Scarlett and I got such a kick out of playing these characters.”
And that couldn’t be made more apparent than the hilariously awkward and steamy scene when Jon and Barbara pretty much perform a porno in front of the screen, fully-clothed and making-out, with Barbara constantly teasing Jon until his climax.
I feel that this film wasn’t intended to be taken seriously at all. The repetitive notions of returning to his porn and self-love make us either uncomfortably laugh or be charmed by his seemingly innocent devotion to porn. What I find more interesting is how the actors had found themselves playing these characters in the first place.
ScarJo says of her character Barbara, “She’s got a lot of conviction, and I think I definitely understood, probably from my own personal experience, the conviction that she has is because she really feels right. She believes herself. She doesn’t doubt herself at all.” She continues, “I doubt myself often. But I do understand that personality at times. It’s probably why she’s successful in so many other parts in her life. It’s why she’s a catch. Unfortunately, it fails her here. You can’t have an intimate relationship with somebody if you always feel right. I know that head-space.”
The raunch in Don Jon does serve some sort of value, however. JGL attacks both genders in a way as we find that Barbara can’t seem to forgive or let go of Jon’s X-rated habits, and Jon can’t seem to let himself become vulnerable in any relationship he may have.
When Jon’s fellow widowed night-class student Esther comes into the picture, played by the always radiant Julianne Moore, she provides him with a new and unexpected light. As she catches him watching porn in class, Jon and her share an undeniably open bond, bringing a sense of reality to his view on women–and then some.
“Suddenly being thrust into the media spotlight, I became more of an object, and my love life became interesting to people. It’s a strange adjustment to make,” ScarJo continued in her interview. “You become very protective … You hide inside yourself. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more you learn to balance those things. It’s a strange reality.”
Perhaps what made this movie a bit of a let-down for me was that I had expected it so much to be more of a social commentary or of JGL’s attempt to normalize porn, that finding it as being more for mere mockery and entertainment value took me back.
“You’re really perceptive and empathetic to the way people are,” JGL says of journalists. “My dad was a journalist, so that would interest me. This is a conversation my dad and I have all the time. It’s ultimately about telling a story.”
And that’s exactly what JGL tried to do here.
As the opening montage of scantily-clad women blasted all over media’s hyper-sexualized pop culture society helped us not only begin to understand the head-space of Jon, but to also feed audiences just the right amount of raunch to get by, perhaps that’s all the seriousness in which we should look at with this film.
ScarJo looks over to JGL and adds, “Joe’s just boring.”
JGL himself nods, laughing, “That’s what I always say, and that’s actually true.”