DON JON is the impressive directorial debut by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played the geeky kid on TV’s 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN about 15 years ago. The story is about how people expect reality to match up with what they see in the media.
In the film, Jon Martello Jr. is a macho Italian-American from New Jersey who only has a few things that he cares about in life. As he says in a voice-over, “My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” Everything in Jon’s world is an object of his consumption and desire – it’s all for his use. He loves his Internet porn and this shapes his expectations of how love, relationships and sex are supposed to be.
Jon is obsessed with surface appearances – both his and those of the girls he wants for his sexual conquests. He’s very successful at scoring but, unfortunately for these girls, Jon gets more satisfaction from watching a minute of Internet pornography than he does from having sex with them. One night while in the club with his boys, he meets a “10”, or a “dime”, as he calls it – the girl of his erotic dreams – fetchingly played by Scarlett Johansson who looks a bit like Jessica Rabbit. Jon gets Barbara into bed but he quickly realises that even she doesn’t measure up to what he can achieve on his own. When Barbara catches him self-indulging, she lays down the law: no lying and no more Internet porn. But Barbara is not so different from Jon. Her view of relationships is as fantasized as his is. While Jon believes that what he sees on the porn sites is real, she believes that what she sees in the romantic Hollywood films she loves to watch is just as real.
Barbara starts to mould Jon into her vision of what a romantic guy should be. He’s no longer allowed to clean his own floors. It’s not sexy, she says. At her insistence, he goes to night school to get a degree because being a bartender is not romantic either. While at school, Jon meets the off-beat and much older Esther (played by Julianne Moore) and the two embark on a May-September relationship. Through Esther, Jon grows up and learns about delayed gratification, and about finding yourself by losing yourself in another person.
DON JON features an excellent performance by Tony Danza, as Jon’s hot-headed father. You can see that he was Jon (maybe without the benefit of the Internet) 25 years earlier. He even comments to Jon on the quality of Barbara’s tangible assets. But the best performance in the film goes to Brie Larson, whose career so far has mainly been on TV. Brie plays Jon’s younger sister, Monica, who only has one line in the film but her expressions throughout are priceless. This is a young woman who wants nothing more than to escape from the life she is in. She is glued to her smartphone, whether it’s at the family’s weekly Sunday church visits or at their dinner table later that afternoon.
A bit of warning: When it comes to the Internet porn scenes, nothing is left to imagination. If you can handle the explicitness, then see this movie. When I saw the film, my first thought was that this is what Gordon-Levitt wanted as his first screenplay? But after giving it more thought, the film and its subject matter have grown on me. The guy is certainly a very talented actor. We now see that he’s an equally talented screenwriter and director.
Listen to the review online at Radio 4. (Click on the link, select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 36:45.)