Movie Review Rewind: Don Jon (2013)

Brandon Vick flips the calendar back to 2013 for a look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon.

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It’s official: Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do it all. He is a man of many talents and now writer and director can be added to the list. He takes a story about porn addiction, a subject that easily could have been turned in to a mess of a movie, and not only makes it sexy and hilariously vulgar, but sweet and insightful as well. Don Jon is an unexpected, smartly crafted film in which JGL shows just as much confidence behind the camera as his character does with getting women. And trust me, that is saying something.

Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) is a New Jersey bartender who has the gift of being able to take a woman home every time he steps foot in to the club. But don’t worry, he has his priorities in order. He loves his family and never misses church or confession for that matter. He works out and has the bod to prove it, cherishes his ride, and cleans the hell out of his pad. He makes time for his friends/wingmen (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) until he spots at least an 8 (does not settle for anything less) and takes her back to his place. Yet no matter how many women he “smashes”, they all take a backseat to his laptop. Why? Because it is what he uses to escape and get lost in the wonderful world of porn. Jon will be the first to tell you it’s better than the real thing. That is right. You read that correctly.

However, on one fateful night, Jon meets his match when the smoking hot, voluptuous Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is spotted at the bar. His usual routine of seduction works on her until it’s time to close the deal. She is not having any of it. In Jon’s eyes, Barbara is a “dime” (meaning she is a complete 10) and if he’s going to get in her pants, he is going to have to earn it. At first, it seems she is trying to make him a better man. She wants to meet his friends and would like to have a nice dinner with his family. She wants him to go to school and at least take one night class. But soon her demands become too much.

Quit cleaning his place and get a housekeeper instead? No way.

Stop jerking off to porn? Oh hell no.

The problem with Jon and Barbara’s relationship is they are both living in a fantasy world. Obviously, Jon has been swallowed up whole by porn and manages to beat his own record by masturbating eleven times in one day. So we certainly know where his mind is most of the time. But Barbara is just as bad by believing real life should be just like the movies. She eats up the false hope and promises of Hollywood’s romantic comedies. In her perfect world, the man should do whatever he has to do in order to get the girl and keep her happy. Each believe their fantasy is the true reality of how romance should go and they could not be further from the truth.

Johansson gives a lusty performance with some attitude. It’s been a long time since she has commanded the screen, but you cannot take your eyes off for her in this for several reasons. As Barbara, you cannot help but like her at first because she is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with Jon. He is not used to that. But the longer the relationship continues, the easier it is to see it’s her way or no way. Along with Jon, you come to the realization he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Jon’s wake-up call comes in the form of an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) who he meets in his night class. Their first encounter does not go so well. Actually, their first few encounters do not go so well. However, after she catches him watching porn on his phone before class and is not afraid to ask him about it, the film changes its tone. Moore’s subtle but terrific performance makes Don Jon’s heart beat a little more faster and stronger. She has her own secrets to share, but Jon finds relief in talking to her and what comes out of it are experiences he has never had before. Esther becomes his redemption. Slowly but surely.

In Don Jon, porn addiction is just the surface of the film. JGL seeks to uncover how modern romances evolve and how easy it is for it to dissolve. It’s about the insecurities in a relationship and the stupid fights that come from it. Most importantly, the film is about the expectations we have about love and what we think it should be. And when those expectations are not met, we are left feeling disappointed and heartbroken. But Gordon-Levitt reminds us we still can not give up. The tools he has as an actor, he splendidly uses as a first-time writer/director. JGL is a natural in front of and behind the camera. His eagerness and curiosity pours throughout Don Jon. Who knew he could make an intelligent rom-com with such a dirty mind? It is a gutsy attempt that ends up being just as satisfying as porn is to Jon. That is probably the biggest compliment I can give to this movie.

I have to end this review by welcoming back the one and only, Tony Danza. He is perfectly cast as Jon’s father and steals every scene he is in. His overall reaction to when he finally gets a look at Barbara when she comes over to meet the family is nothing short of priceless. Danza gives a tough yet devoted performance while reminding us he is still and always will be the boss.

Brandon Vick is a member of The Music City Film Critics’ Association and the Southeastern Film Critics Association, the resident film critic of the SoBros Network, and the star of The Vick’s Flicks Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SirBrandonV and be sure to search #VicksFlicks for all of his latest movie reviews.

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