Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes on the topic of sex addiction as writer, director, and lead actor in Don Jon – a film that ekes out a unique space in the pantheon of recent addiction films, settling somewhere between the significantly darker Shame (2011) and the much lighter Thanks for Sharing (2012).
As the eponymous character, Gordon-Levitt plays a hypersexual Jersey Shorian who objectifies women, and earns his nickname by consistently being able to pull whatever woman he wants. Despite this, he can only achieve true satisfaction by watching porn. Which he does incessantly. Jon’s preference of porn over actual sex and his battle to understand and overcome this preference forms the thematic foundation for a film that sets out to explore the clash between expectation and reality.
Don Jon is a film that matures along with its characters on screen and makes a great transition from comedy to drama.It is certainly in drama where Gordon-Levitt shines as a writer, as the more dramatic second half of the film brings a depth of story that is noticeably lacking in the opening. He is also very comfortable and confident in the director’s chair. There are consistent clever plays with the central topic of addiction dotted through the structure of the film, we follow Jon on a well-worn path of locations – from the gym, to the car, to the family table, to the club, to the bedroom, to the computer, to the church – that implicitly portray the habitual patterns the character is locked into.
It’s around the family table that we get a glimpse into the root of Jon’s habits, and further explore the theme of reality and expectation through his father who is more interested in the football game than his family, his mother who is obsessed with Jon meeting ‘the one’, and his sister who spends the majority of the film texting.
While it is slow and somewhat cumbersome to start, the film picks up pace through the introduction of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who attempts to rein in the libidinous Jon and force him to stop watching porn. And again the story deepens through the introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore), who challenges Jon to confront his behaviour and the philosophy behind it. Both Johansson and Moore are brilliant in their respective roles – they also showcase Gordon-Levitt’s skill at writing conflicted female characters. Their introduction to the story drives Jon’s journey to understand himself and his desires at a deeper level, and Gordon-Levitt’s performance as an actor stays strong throughout, convincingly portraying Jon as a likeable character battling with unlikeable traits. Don Jon certainly won’t appeal to everyone. While it has the trappings of a good comedy-drama, its subject matter is confronted graphically and head on (think 120 Days of Sodom, rather than 500 Days of Summer) and undoubtedly that will be off-putting for some. But for those that persevere, it is a rich film that offers a sometimes clunky and heavy-handed, but ultimately warm-hearted commentary on the false expectations that men can have about women, and likewise, the false expectations that women can have about men.
Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 21st Nov 2013.