REVIEW: The pros and cons of ‘Don Jon’

“Don Jon” is about a 20-something New Jersey dude whose passions are in what he possesses: his body, his apartment, his car, his family, his church, his boys, his girls. And his porn.

Johnny, played by child actor turned mega star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, doesn’t realize he has a porn addiction, (he ranks it higher than one-on-one sex), and that his scope may be a bit skewed. He and his buddies rank women on a scale of one to “a dime” and partake in raunchy one-ups-manship. Stereotypical, right? And a little gross. But Gordon-Levitt, who wrote and directed “Don Jon,” wisely opts to not waste too much time on this stock image.

Enter Barbara, played by Scarlett Johannson, the perfect 10. She’s the unattainable beauty, and the challenge, that Johnny’s looking for.

It was “love” at first sight.

We see him change his routine very quickly for her, and routine is something this character thrives off of. He goes to church each week with his family and confesses his sins: sex out of wedlock, watching porn and masturbating. A lot. He’s given penance, which he recites as he lifts weights.

When Barbara catches Johnny indulging his addiction, she forces him to swear it off.  In confession, his sins are reduced, as is his penance. All seems well. Until it’s not. Without giving too much away, here are the pros and cons of “Don Jon.”

  • PRO: First hat trick for Gordon-Levitt, and I was impressed. What he chooses to show and leave out in the screenplay and in the film shots are key elements to his storytelling. He definitely knows his movies and how to make an image or a pause count.
  • CON: Some of his tactics are too obvious. Throughout the movie, Johnny’s sister, played by Brie Larson, is mute and continually on her cellphone. It was clear to me her role would be that of the “fool,” a stock character who seemingly is without insight until the end, when she makes the heaviest observation. It was an obvious use of a storytelling device and what a waste of Brie Larson’s acting chops.

“Did you just call me ‘lady’? … I like you.”

  • PRO: This story is new. I can’t think of another movie that features a porn addict as its main character, at least in mainstream film-making. The subject matter is interesting to explore and, as the opening credits scream, it’s one we as a culture should discuss.
  • CON: Props for tackling a difficult addiction, but Gordon-Levitt doesn’t offer a very realistic solution. Chalk it up to this is his first go, and his main agenda may be simply launching a dialogue.
  • PRO: Solid performances. Gordon-Levitt is a chameleon actor and Scarlett Johansson sizzles. Julianne Moore, as Johnny’s awkward and loopy classmate, is top-notch.
  • CON: The supporting characters are a bit one-dimensional or are not fully developed. Most of the women are portrayed as easy, controlling with their sexuality, silent or insightful but damaged. (That said, this isn’t a movie you walk into expecting to relate to the characters.)

Altogether, Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon” is modern storytelling packed with provocative imagery, social commentary and cultural observation, and its bottom line is sexier than the sex scenes.

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