September 27, 2013

Don Jon

The people sitting next to my friend and me walked out of Don Jon about thirty minutes into the movie. And why shouldn't they? Don Jon is about a self-absorbed d-bag from New Jerey (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who's a master of hooking up with women, but who admittedly prefers porn to actual physical contact. He and his buddies rate the girls at the club on a scale of one to ten, and when they spot Scarlet Johansson at the bar, all of them agree she's a "dime." Scarlet plays Barbara Sugarman (the name conjures up all kinds of licentious possibilities), a somewhat pampered girl who knows what she wants and how she can manipulate guys into giving it to her. She and Jon eventually become a couple, but he can't stop looking at porn, and when Barbara finds it on his computer, she's disgusted and breaks up with him.

If you're easily offended by crude language or nudity, Don Jon isn't your movie. As Jon describes his daily habit of trolling the internet for new XXX videos, we're met with a constant montage of images of girls from the web (most of the time just their faces, but sometimes more), and it's admittedly uncomfortable to see in a movie theater. (Porn isn't glamorous, and it isn't dignified. There's something shameful about seeing it even under these conditions.)

But Don Jon isn't about titillating the viewer. We're in the head of a guy who has become so detached from reality that he can't "lose himself" with another human being anymore. He has to go to porn. (The movie also makes some coy observations about women losing themselves in romantic comedies, their version of porn.) There are also some deliciously apt observations about the American family today, a family that's been beat into submissive silence by the booming television and the cell phones. (Jon's sister barely utters a word in any scene she's in: she's always texting, and his father has positioned his seat at the dinner table so he can watch football while he eats.)

There's something very unique about the character of Don Jon, and something very typical at the same time. I think he represents the current young American male: aggressively macho, high on his own sent, and too distracted and too hooked--whatever the drug of choice--to know how much he desperately wants real human interaction. The scenes of Jon at confession--being assigned a certain number of Hail Marys and Lord's Prayers depending on the number of times he's given into temptation--manage to be both hilariously and heartbreakingly believable.

In the end, it comes down to that same old story: boy meets girl, boy can't stop looking at porn, girl breaks up with boy, Julianne Moore sleeps with boy so he can find salvation. I do love Julianne Moore, but I feel that she has been doing this kind of thing for quite a long time. Moore plays a woman whom Jon meets at a night class, and with whom he learns to see more in a woman than just the degree of sexual pleasure she can afford him. She's wonderful--a voice of sanity amidst the cacophony.

It's hard to remember the last time an actor has so lost himself inside a character like this. Joseph Gordon-Levitt becomes the ultimate Guido (he also wrote and directed the film, and with a refreshing amount of imagination). It's almost miraculous that you could feel sympathy for him, since he resembles those idiots from the Jersey Shore, but you do. You really do. Gordon-Levitt has fashioned quite an impressive "romantic comedy," especially because it so honestly hits at some of the nerves being ignored almost everywhere else. With Tony Danza, Glenne Headley, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, and Jeremy Luke. Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum have cameos as the actors in the romantic comedy that Jon and Barbara watch.

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