‘Don Jon’ (2013) Movie Review – Toronto Film Festival

Don Jon movie review
Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Don Jon
Photo: Relativity Media

Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his feature writing and directing debut with Don Jon, a relatively inconsequential film in the grand scheme of things, but a satisfying first time out showing Levitt has the chops to grow as a filmmaker. While the film largely struggles from redundancies and narrative leaps that aren’t quite earned, it is rather fun and works well as a small piece of entertainment. After a while, however, you begin to feel as if you are stuck in the same narrative loop and the brief 90 minute run time begins to wear.

Opening with an energetic title sequence we are introduced to Jon (Gordon-Levitt) or “Don” Jon as his friends refer to him based on his ability to go home with a different girl each and every night. Jon checks all the boxes when it comes to stereotyping what has come to be known as a New Jersey “guido” as he heads out to the club with his boys — hair slicked back, tight vest and a wandering eye as he and his friends rate the women that catch his eye. However, sex with random women on a nightly basis simply can’t sate Jon’s desires. Jon, as you learn from the get-go, has an addiction to porn.

Titled Don Jon’s Addiction when the film premiered at Sundance earlier this year, the title, I guess, was a little too on the nose as an introductory monologue guides us through all the reasons Jon finds online porn more preferable to sex with an actual woman. And Jon isn’t what you’d call an “every now and then” kind of guy. Jon masturbates 17-30 times a week and he likes to tell us (and his priest) all about it. Jon’s addiction, however, is about to get in his way.

One night at the club his eye is drawn to the woman in the red dress, Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). As Jon puts it, she’s a “dime”, but at the end of the night she doesn’t fall for his usual charms as he heads home alone where only his computer can comfort him. Days go by, and suddenly the nameless women Jon is bedding are becoming increasingly meaningless and a meaningful relationship is suddenly what Jon wants rather than something he wants to avoid. The question is can one real woman satisfy where so many pornstars currently reign?

I liked Gordon-Levitt in the lead role and, despite how serious the film ultimately ends up, it’s loaded with a lot of humor. Johansson puts on her best “Jersey Shore” accent to match those around her and Tony Danza stands out as Jon’s entertaining and aggressively loud father whose mouth doesn’t have any kind of a filter. There’s also a cute little side joke as Brie Larson (Short Term 12) plays Jon’s sister and spends virtually the entirety of the film tapping away on her cell phone, until just the right moment.

The strangest role, however, belongs to Julianne Moore, whose character surfaces rather early, but her role in the story doesn’t have a natural progression. Instead, her subtle introduction and periodic appearances don’t add up to much and yet she becomes an integral part of the story.

Also, holding the film back are the number of redundancies it faces as Jon’s daily rituals, beyond masturbating to porn, are repeated over and over again and not to much consequence. What initially seem like cute, random asides of Jon’s road rage and visits to the confessional just become repetitive and pointless, ultimately sapping whatever life they previously brought to the story.

Overall, though, I have no problem recommending this film to anyone interested in seeing it. For a debut feature it’s a fun little movie and hopefully the ground floor of a successful career in filmmaking for Gordon-Levitt. However, while it’s attempting to make a commentary on how we view the world through false fantasies I don’t think any of that came through in the final product, at least not to the extent I think it was meant to. Instead it’s just a movie about a guy overcoming his porn addiction. Nothing wrong with that.

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