Before I write anything else about 'Don Jon': yes, there are some guys in Northern New Jersey who really do act this way. Some of the particulars are exaggerated, but not really. Whether the interior life of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's protagonist gym rat, club denizen, muscle car driver is accurate is something I'll never know, and considering the emotional dysfunction on display, I think I'm okay with it.
'Don Jon,' written and directed by Levitt, tackles the sticky issue of pornography's deleterious effect on modern relationships. Don't be scared, this isn't a family values morality lecture, 'Don Jon's Addiction' seems to ultimately take the attitude my mother did when she uncovered some magazine's under my bed as a lad - once in a while isn't so bad. The film's larger subject is how media's manipulation of fantasy can warp one's perception of the real world. By the end of the picture, the chronic wanker learns to put down his mouse and engage humanity. It's a conventional arc, but Levitt's script wisely takes some twists and turns to get to its conclusion.
It's also funny. Because JGL having Sunday macaroni and gravy in an undershirt alongside Tony Danza is some of the best Italian-American dinner table comedy since 'Saturday Night Fever.' Jon makes it to confession each week, but the rest of his time is spent seducing women. He rarely comes up short, but the sad fact is that he far prefers masturbating to Internet pornography to actual sex.
The early scenes detailing his habits are blunt and perhaps shocking, but there's a humor that emerges from the honesty. Jon sees nothing wrong with his insulated life, which hums along until he spies Scarlett Johansson.
This "dime piece" (e.g. a "ten") plays hard to get with Jon and, at first, she seems like a domesticating influence. He lasers all his energies in on winning her and, when they eventually commit to one another, he announces to his family and to himself that he's in love. The second act twist? She's actually no good for him - just another crippling addiction.
Johansson is a key player in setting him on the right path, though. By pressuring him to better himself he takes night classes, where he meets Julianne Moore. She's got her own emotional issues (they meet as she's uncontrollably weeping outside the school) but with her social detachment and age comes wisdom. Moore, always terrific, is quite spectacular here, and while critics could shrug her off as just a magical pixie MILF, she brings a tenderness and depth to a rather difficult role.
For a movie that is, fundamentally, a comic crowd-pleaser (lots of big laughs, especially in the confessional) 'Don Jon' takes some risks with its crude and relentless portrayal of onanism and smut. Conservative audiences who think JGL is cute as a button may not care for the subject matter of his first film all that much.
For those more worldly cinephiles approaching the material from the other side, complaints that the film is too commercial are not one hundred percent accurate. This is a movie where even the villains serve their purpose in our hero's growth. There are some subtle touches, too, like an epiphanic exercise option choice Jon makes at the gym in the film's final reel. All the performances are solid (did I mention Tony Danza? Tony Danza!) but for JGL to expose himself thusly in his first writer/director picture is, indeed, a bold choice.
'Don Jon's Addiction' premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.