“Don Jon” wants to talk about an interesting subject, but it only keeps scratching its surface. As a more humorous cousin of Steven McQueen’s “Shame”(2011), the movie tries to look cheerfully at a certain form of sex addiction and its unpleasant aspects as making some good points on the excessive self-indulgence associated with it, but it is hampered by its thin plot and broad characterization, and its third act is particularly unsatisfying due to its half-baked resolution.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the movie, plays Jon Martello, a young, handsome guy who usually hangs around local nightclubs while working in the service industry. It is said he works as a bartender, but I do not remember any single scene depicting him at work, so I naturally wondered at time about how he manages to earn enough for his fancy lifestyle as depicted in the movie.
Thanks to his diligent gym exercise, Jon has good physique along with his nice-looking face, so he can quickly approach to any girls in his sight while his friends, Bobby(Rob Brown) and Danny(Jeremy Luke), enviously look at how easily their friend works on girls. One of their night routines is looking around the girls near them in the nightclub, and, as your average horny guys objectifying female body, they score girls based on their faces and bodies in the scale of 1 to 10 before Jon goes for a girl he sets his eyes on.
As nicknamed ‘Don Jon’, he always succeeds in his pursuit for pleasure, but he is not exactly satisfied with that. Girls scoring 8 or 9 do not say no to him as he smoothly works on them, and they enjoy sex with him later on his bed, but Jon is rather dispassionate about them although he keeps going for the sex with these sexy girls at every night. He may get orgasm as wished, but the outcome is not as satisfying as he wants, so he prefers a more convenient and satisfying activity in his daily life: watching Internet porn. All he has to deal with is his own genitalia, so he has no problem with spending all night for finding any good porn to satisfy his biological needs, and his waste basket always contains at least one or two tissues consumed by this routine(his current record: 10 tissues on one day).
As showing him mired in this addiction, the movie draws small laughs from the cyclic nature of Jon’s lifestyle as he goes between his friends, his family, and other things in his life. For instance, when he routinely visits his family who seems to be living in some alternative sitcom world, he goes to the church with them where he confesses to a priest about his load of sins to be absolved. After that, he soon goes through his another sinful quest as usual, and then, of course, he comes to the church again for another confession.
But now he sees that he cannot keep going on like that when he starts a relationship with Barbara(Scarlett Johansson), who instantly scored 10 when he saw her. As their relationship becomes a little more serious than before, his addiction to Internet porn becomes a major problem. Their sex life is fairly good, but, not so surprisingly, Jon eventually comes to want more, and he finds himself drawn to Internet porn again.
The movie effectively shows the state of Jon’s addicted mind through the quick cuts of hardcore porn clips as he blankly and intensively looks at his laptop monitor(they are not shown explicitly enough to get the movie rated NC-17, by the way), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has established himself as one of the talented young actors working in Hollywood through a string of well-reviewed films, willingly shows the unsavory sides of his character although he is a bit awkward in his accented narration. Like the hero of “Shame”, who locks himself in objectified sexual pleasure to distance himself from others, Jon essentially blocks himself from real human relationships as throwing himself into the unrealistic sexual fantasies provided by Internet porn, and the main irony in the story is that Barbara is no better than him because she is also isolated in her own fantasy through many unrealistic romance films she keeps watching(but you might say her addiction is relatively a little healthier than his).
It is disappointing that the movie handles this interesting contrast in its story in a lackluster fashion. Scarlett Johansson surely looks sexy as required, but the movie does not provide enough material for her performance, and she is more or less discarded during its third act. One of the major flaws in the movie is the broad characterization of its supporting characters, and that problem is especially apparent during the scenes involving Jon’s family. As Jon’s bickering and caring parents, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly virtually chew their scenes with their overacting, and I was rather sad to see how the movie wasted Brie Larson, who was a lot better in “The Spectacular Now”(2013). She plays Jon’s silent sister who mostly occupies herself with texting all the time, and we all know she will eventually speak something revelatory to her brother sooner or later – and we are not particularly surprised by what she says.
Only supporting character who does feel real in the movie is Esther(Julianne Moore), who happens to encounter Jon at a college class he attends. Although Moore provides warmth to her scenes as demanded, there is not much surprise there, either; right from her very first appearance, we can easily predict that this thoughtful woman will give a meaningful life lesson to our lothario hero, and, again, we are not so surprised about what happens between them.
I did not like much “Don Jon” at first, but it gets improved although it still feels unsatisfying as reaching to its conclusion. I appreciated how the movie gradually shifts from a slick, artificial tone during the first half to a warmer and intimate tone during the second half, and Gordon-Levitt shows promise and competence in his direction although there is still more to be improved in his direction skill. You know there is a problem in the movie if you instantly get the impression during the viewing that they shot recurring scenes all on the same day.