Jon Martello, known as ‘The Don’ to his friends, is a New Jersey bartender who likes pumping iron, hanging out with his crew, picking up girls, going to confession – and watching porn. Lots and lots and lots of porn.
Don Jon (played with brio by writer-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt) watches so much porn, in fact, that even though he’s getting real sex on a regular basis with the women he picks up in bars, it’s never as satisfying as masturbating in his room to the latest porn loop. And even when he meets the woman of his dreams, the spectacularly bodacious Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, pouring on the Joisey accent), he can’t wean himself away from his addiction.
Then, in a college class he’s taking to satisfy Barbara’s desire that he improve himself, Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore), an older widow who discovers his secret and tries to convince him that real sex can definitely be better than the video kind.
“Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first effort as a writer-director, is a curious hybrid. On one level it’s a raucous sex comedy, filled with R-rated dialogue, nudity and simulated lovemaking. But it’s also an over-the-top, stereotyped and riotously funny look at Italian-American family life in the wilds of North Jersey, with Tony Danza particularly hysterical as an overbearing macho father (the look he gives Johansson’s character when he first meets her is priceless). Plus, “Don Jon” is a cinematic therapy session about porn addiction, and why the fantasy life is not as good as real, meaningful sex.
That’s three – count ’em, three – films in one.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Gordon-Levitt’s screenplay is smart and truly witty, managing to create a thoroughly realistic central character and dilemma. He and Johansson make an incredibly attractive pair, with Moore providing grounding as the older, wiser woman. If the director tends to use a shaky hand-held camera a bit too much, and some of his camera placements are a bit bizarre, you can chalk that up to a rookie effort. Fact is, this is a pretty smooth and impressive first film. And if Gordon-Levitt has decided to use comedy and raunch to make some points about sex, masculinity and Catholic guilt, it only shows that he is an artist with a serious agenda.
“Don Jon” uses the tropes of an R-rated slob comedy to make some mature statements about sex in the age of ubiquitous porn. That alone makes it unique – and worthwhile.