Plot: Jon “Don Jon” Martello only cares about a few things in life: His body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. He follows everything faithfully on a weekly basis and has the uncanny ability to pull in “10s” at will. His entire life is turned upside down though when Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) comes across his gaze and he falls in love.
When I first saw previews for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, my immediate impression was dictated by how pornography was to play such a massive role in this film. Porn is such a taboo topic in our society and putting it in the spotlight is an incredibly ambitious move. Many people even called this movie a pornography flick. But this is JGL, one of the hottest actors in Hollywood right now, and his founding of hitRECord shows that he is extremely familiar with the artistic side of movies. Sure enough, Don Jon goes far beyond its initial appearance as a “porn movie” with a surprisingly deep story, artistic film structure, and incredible acting by everyone involved in the film, with some humor thrown in here and there.
Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, porn plays a HUGE role in the film. Its role is on par with how much it dictates the life of Jon himself. Jon refuses to admit it but he is clearly addicted to watching porn. He even prefers it over regular sex. It’s his personal journey of growth that brings him away from the computer and into the real world of legitimate human contact beyond one night stands that makes this story shine. Barbara is the wrench that disrupts his perfect order which begins this story of irrevocable change. It all starts slowly with Jon’s weekly routine being updated or revised on the small scale. Overtime the changes pile up as Jon progresses through his relationship with Barbara and later meets Esther (Julianne Moore) in a night class. This leads to the film ending with a much more dedicated and relationship focused Jon than the earlier party and porn addict.
The film conveys Jon’s changes beautifully too with an incredibly artistic filming structure. Before Jon meets Barbara, we see he has a set order to his life. He lifts weights at the gym, regularly cleans his apartment, drives recklessly, parties with his friends Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke), has sex with random women, masturbates to porn multiple times, eats dinner with his family, and then attends church to confess all of the sins he committed over the past week. He has a distorted view of women and views them as “inferior” to the porn stars he sees digitally on a daily basis. Once he meets Barbara and starts to pursue a relationship with her, his routine begins its progressive change. These are changes which become even more evident during his weekly confessions. He masturbates less, stops banging random women, watches more movies, and even attends night classes. He almost completely forgoes his past life with his friends. He starts meeting Barbara’s family and she meets his. He truly falls for this beautiful woman and makes her his entire focus.
That all comes to a halt when Barbara discovers the amount of porn he watches daily, and she immediately leaves him due to lack of trust. This causes Jon to swing to a more aggressive side where he watches porn all day, forgoes the cleaning of his house, skips the night classes, and becomes increasingly irate. He eventually begins to hook up with his classmate Esther which leads to him learning his most important lesson: All relationships require an equal amount of give and take. That’s when the previously perfect Barbara Sugarman becomes just as flawed as Jon for expecting him to change his entire life for her without her doing anything in return. She is addicted to romantic films and also has an extremely distorted review on reality, just like Jon. Jon’s sister Monica (Brie Larson) first points this out in her only lines of the entire movie. That’s when Jon discovers what love truly is and he has that with Esther. He even begins questioning his church when he gets the same prayer penance despite his personal growth of completely removing porn from his life and having a legitimate relationship. Not even his gym life is unaffected. Instead of lifting weights, Jon starts playing basketball. This is when his entire life structure is completely changed forever.
The film is marketed as a romantic comedy-drama but comedy definitely takes a backseat in the latter half of the film. There are plenty of funny moments in the beginning with Jon and his friends at the club being particularly hilarious. A personal favorite of mine is when Jon brings Barbara home for the first time and his parents Angela (Glenne Headly) and Jon Sr. (Tony Danza) absolutely fall in love with her. Danza is especially funny here when he can’t stop commenting at how stunning Barbara is. As Jon himself said, she’s a “dime.” Then almost completely abruptly, the comedy goes away entirely once Barbara leaves Jon. Like I said before, Jon becomes much angrier at his life and those around him, and begins taking his sexual frustration out on Esther. We even learn about Esther’s past revealing that she lost her husband and son 14 months ago in a car accident and Jon smashes his hand on a car window in a fit of road rage. You begin to wonder where the comedy went but thankfully the story is still engrossing.
Don Jon is the perfect example of a movie that you shouldn’t judge based on its appearance. On the surface it looks like a movie about a porn addict who has to abandon his ways for love, but it goes much deeper than that. It is a story of change and relationships, stressing the importance of mutual love and not one sided commitments. The acting, especially Johansson’s, is brilliant which truly makes these characters come to life. The structure is proof that JGL knows how to make an artistically oriented film as well. The biggest issue with this film though is how it completely changes its tone midway through making you forget it was ever a comedy to begin with. Bottom line, Don Jon is a very entertaining movie that should be seen by anyone looking for an underdog hit to get behind. This is JGL’s first time behind the camera, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s more than welcome to do this again.