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"DON JON"
(2013) (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A young man tries to overcome his pornography addiction when he enters into a committed relationship with a woman.
PLOT:
Jon (JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT) is a New Jersey bartender who is a legend to his friends Bobby (ROB BROWN) and Danny (JEREMY LUKE) for his ability to pick up gorgeous women every weekend at the local nightclub, take them back to his place, and have sex with them. He works out, he has muscles and a muscle car, slick hair, and good looks. He also has an addiction to pornography. He finds masturbating to X-rated scenes on the Internet more gratifying than actual sex.

Into his life comes Barbara (SCARLETT JOHANSSON), a gorgeous local woman who doesn't sleep with him for the first month of their dating relationship. Jon falls in love, even though he can't see that she is a controlling and uncompromising person. He even takes her home to meet his shrill mother, Angela (GLENNE HEADLY); profane father, Jon Sr. (TONY DANZA); and constantly texting sister, Monica (BRIE LARSON).

But it's not long before Barbara checks up on him, scans the history on his laptop computer, and discovers his daily porn habit even though he has promised her he doesn't visit those websites. The relationship sours just as Jon starts to become involved with Esther (JULIANNE MOORE), an older woman he meets at night school who has suffered a recent tragedy.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has written and directed his first film in which he also stars, and "Don Jon" is an interesting choice all around. The film chronicles the sexual exploits of Jon, a swaggering New Jersey bartender who is a legend to his friends for being able to "score a dime" (i.e. have sex with a woman he and they rate a "10") each weekend. The rest of the week, Jon tends bar, goes to Catholic mass, eats dinner with his family, works out at the local gym, and obsessively cleans his apartment. Oh, and he watches porn. Lots of porn.

Jon has a pornography addiction. During his weekly confessions, he provides his local priest with a scorecard of the past seven days' tally of porn watching and masturbation sessions. Jon is so into watching X-rated clips online that he actually prefers it to real sex. It gives him more satisfaction. In fact, he has developed a habit of having sex with women, waiting until they are asleep, then going to the other room, booting up the laptop, and "finishing himself off" online.

As plots go, "Argo" this isn't. But an interesting twist is thrown in when Jon finally meets a girl, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who he falls in love with. Barbara is one of those tough-talking "Joy-sey" girls who makes him wait a whole month before sleeping with him. But once she has her claws in him, she begins to rule his entire life. He even has to start watching porn on his smartphone!

"Don Jon" has been receiving some fairly positive reviews, and there are indeed aspects to this film that I greatly liked and admired. The film is exquisitely edited to show the routines of Jon's life as mentioned earlier. As a director, Gordon-Levitt knows how to tell a joke visually. And I like how he would punctuate his film every 10 or so minutes with his head in a confessional recapping the changes in his sex life as he first meets Barbara, then gets involved with a damaged older woman, Esther (Julianne Moore), who is his classmate at night school.

But I dunno. I got about halfway into this flick, and I really started to wonder -- uh -- what am I rooting for here? For Jon to find true love? For the playboy to be finally tamed? For him to overcome his porn addiction? For Jon to learn what it's like to truly make love and not just have cheap, empty sex? I didn't find the answers to any of these questions all that worthy of my time investment. I really didn't care!

Part of the problem is the way Gordon-Levitt the writer and director treats porn addiction. He doesn't know whether to laugh at and treat it as a joke - as additions go, it's of course one of the "funnier" ones - or to really hone in on how destructive skin flicks have become in Jon's life. As a filmmaker, he doesn't seem ready throughout of really delving into such potentially meaty material. Never once is there mention made of getting counseling for it. And, ultimately, it never really gets acknowledged as a real problem.

I also found most of the characters unlikable and, even worse, quite grotesque. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly costar as Jon's father and mother, respectively. And they just come across as these shrill Italian stereotypes, screaming at each other, hurling obscenities, and generally being unpleasant to watch. I thought the scenes at the family dinner table felt really "put on." There is even a little sister character who texts constantly throughout the film and only speaks in one scene where she delivers sage wisdom and sound advice to both her parents and her brother before returning to her handheld device and texting some more. It was just such a jive scene.

I wish Gordon-Levitt had done a lot more with this material. There was definitely potential there. Why not follow through on the core concept? Why not have a guy legitimately fall in love for the first time and try and overcome a life-long porn addiction if he is to have any hope of developing an adult, committed relationship? Why make the Barbara character so obviously wrong for him? And why have his redeemer be a woman who lost her son and husband in a tragic accident 14 months earlier? It such a serious bit of information to announce late in the film that up and until that point had been fairly jokey and unwilling to go into darker territory.

"Don Jon" is one of those films where you pat a guy like Gordon-Levitt on the back, commend him for his effort, but then hope that he can build on the positives and deliver with his NEXT film. I rate it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed September 17, 2013 / Posted September 27, 2013


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