Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) seems like an average New Jersey guy; dedicated to his family, church, friends, home… and porn. Jon finds his carefully ordered world of one night stands and hanging out with his ‘boys’ thrown into chaos when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). As well as this, Barbara quickly finds, and disapproves of, his addiction to porn.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has chosen an interesting topic for his first feature film as writer/director; the issue of porn. By focusing on the expectations that porn can create in those who watch it, Gordon-Levitt not only addresses the issue of fantasy vs reality, but also that of relationships between men and women.
Gordon-Levitt not only writes and directs here, but takes on the lead role and he does a great job. Although his accent is a little jarring, Gordon-Levitt brings brashness to the role, but as soon as his ordered world is disturbed, a more vulnerable side to the character is revealed. Gordon-Levitt allows Jon to wander though his life as though he were playing a game; his weekly confessions are measured by how much penance he has to do, and his relationships with women – fleeting as many of them are – have to fit within the rules he has established, or he is not interested.
Scarlett Johansson is on fantastic form here too. Not only does she nail the New Jersey accent, but she also embodies the character; a woman who uses sex as a weapon. The other side of the coin is Julianne Moore, a woman who has experienced enough of life and tragedy to show people that they can change, rather than insist that they do. Moore is gentle and vulnerable, but also funny and engaging.
Gordon-Levitt’s film focuses on the life that Jon has built for himself, and very quickly establishes the world. Some of the more testosterone-fuelled arguments with his father get irritating after a while, but the rest of the film is clever and surprisingly funny. That said, Gordon-Levitt is not afraid to allow his characters to be ugly, showing rounded people, rather than heroes and villains. That said, however, Jon coasts through most of the film as a repulsive anti-hero – although Barbara does not comes off much better – so at times it is hard to tell why we are rooting for a character who uses his penance as a way of keeping track of his workout at the gym. Gordon-Levitt directs capably, and even though some of the characters stray into caricature from time to time, he shows that he is observant and careful presence behind the camera.
In all, Don Jon is not just a film about porn, but a film about relationships, honesty and vulnerability. There are some fantastic uses of sound and light throughout the film, and Gordon-Levitt’s screenplay is nuanced, emotionally engaging and funny. There are times when the film feels stretched thin to fill the 90 minute running time, but Johansson, Moore and Gordon-Levitt are such joys to watch on screen that this is quickly forgotten.