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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The funny, dramatic, and insightful new film ‘Don Jon’

Jon at the gym, where he not only works out but recites the prayers his priest gave him in confessional.

Jon at the gym, where he not only works out but recites the prayers his priest gave him in confessional.

“Don Jon” is not your typical love story. The movie takes place in Jersey, and our protagonist is Jon, the new classic American character with a macho, thick Jersey accent. A real “Hey, you talking to me?” kind of guy. If the reality TV show “Jersey Shore” needed to cast one more actor, Jon would be it.
The film follows Jon, a Don Juan sort of character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the movie. “Don Jon” is the first feature-length film for which he’s taken on both those roles.
Jon has a simple life. He loves his family, his friends, his car, the gym, his girls, church, but most of all, his porn. He really loves his porn. No matter what girl he brings home and sleeps with, afterwards, Jon still needs a “date” with his porn while the girl falls asleep in the bedroom.
Unsatisfied with the one-night stands, Jon thinks that having a girlfriend will give him that satisfying and complete feeling porn gives him. Enter Scarlett Johansson’s character, Barbara, who is a long-nailed, heavily made-up, thick-Jersey-accented, “Hey, you talking to me?” aggressive kind of girl. She is what Jon and his friends rate on a 1-10 scale as a “dime.”
Barbara changes Jon. Despite Jon’s objections, Barbara convinces him to take college classes and have dinner dates with their friends, and she meets Jon’s family before he really wants her to. Jon does it all believing it will lead to the happiness he seeks.
In the same way that porn has given Jon preconceived notions about sex, Barbara has a preconceived notion of the perfect relationship, and she tries to force Jon into being her idealized man. Their relationship is never on a strong foundation and ends hilariously when Barbara looks at Jon’s internet history.
After the break up, Jon goes back to his womanizing ways and his porn. There is one thing from his relationship with Barbara he sticks with, and that’s taking college classes. He meets Ester, played by Julianne Moore, at school. An unlikely spark is ignited between the two, and Ester just may be the one who shows Jon what love is about.
Don Jon on its surface is a comedy. Fast cuts depict Jon at the club catching a girl’s eyes, then dancing with her, then making out with her, then getting in a cab with her, then having sex with her, then happily confessing his sins at church the next day — all to great comic effect.
Some of the funniest scenes take place at the Sunday family dinners with Jon Sr. (Tony Danza), Jon’s mother Monica (Brie Larson), and Jon’s sister Angela (Gienne Headly). Dinner scenes include Jon Sr. peering over his family at the football game on TV in the living room (but still following and joining the conversation going on between Monica and Jon, a conversation which is usually just Monica asking Jon when is he going to settle down and make her a grandmother.)
In one scene a fist fight almost breaks out between Jon and Jon Sr. when Jon Sr. realizes that Jon doesn’t watch a lot of football. Meanwhile, Angela sits and stares at her phone looking bored as if the two almost taking to fisticuffs while Monica screams at them to cut it out is a Sunday tradition.
The confession scenes were another high point for laughs, with Jon confessing the same thing every time; using the lord’s name in vain, masturbating, and fornicating. The only thing that would change would be the amount of times he masturbated and fornicated. His Hail Marys and Our Fathers would be recited at the gym while he benched or did chin-ups.
The surface is comedy, but at its heart Don Jon is love story that gives perspective on how a person’s surroundings influence them. Jon Sr. tells the story about how when he first saw Monica he declared, “That’s mine.” And Monica’s constant pushing for Jon to get a girlfriend was not just funny, but a glimpse of why Jon has become a man who objectifies women as he tries to create what he thinks a relationship is supposed to be.
Levitt effectively uses comedy to help us laugh about a character with a porn addiction and other problems. Jon doesn’t know it, but the satisfaction and completeness he’s looking for is love. Viewers won’t know it, but what they’re watching is a love story.
At first seeing Levitt and Johansson doing Jersey accents is a bit jolting, but after a while it feels natural. Danza was made for his role. Julianne Moore is terrific as always. For Levitt’s first directed and written feature, he made something that was definitely unique. It will be interesting to see what he puts out next.