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'Don Jon' Is Torn Between Two Loves

Joseph Gordon-Levitt film is funny and human, but too comfy in bed with its villain


Rating: R     Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly     

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rowdy and unrepentantly raunchy, Don Jon — a film about a guy whose addiction to online porn is ruining his personal relationships — wallows a bit too willingly in the very material it purports to condemn.

But with a sharp, funny script and strong performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza, the film succeeds as a cautionary tale that may lead millions of guys to (a) stop living in a fantasy world that reduces women to subservient sexual playthings or (b) remember to clear the memory on their laptops before snapping them shut.

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Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 3rd Rock from the Sun), who also writes and directs here, plays Jon. His North Jersey friends have added the "Don" in tribute to his ability to pick up beautiful women at nightclubs. They think he's got it all, and frankly, so does he.

In a self-satisfied voice-over, Jon tell us how happy he is with his women, his family (mother, dad and sister), his bodybuilding prowess, his church (confession every week) … and his porn.

spinner image Don Jon (Courtesy Relativity Media)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson in "Don Jon."
Relativity Media

But mostly his porn. Like all addicts, Jon insists he could give it up any time he wants, but very soon it's clear he's simply a willing slave to the stuff. Not until he stumbles upon a woman he really likes (Johansson, in full Joisey flower) does he even consider changing his ways.

Before long, though, Jon is undone by his secret life, and he finds himself in the company of a strangely melancholy older woman (Moore, growing more radiant with each passing year) who helps bring some perspective to his life. As Jon, Gordon-Levitt exudes easy charm, his dimpled, squinty smile masking his character's ultimate cluelessness.

The film's funniest moments come around the family dinner table. Glenne Headly (Mr. Holland's Opus, Dick Tracy) is instantly endearing as Jon's long-suffering mom, who wants nothing more than to see him come home with the future mother of her grandchildren. Danza gives a startlingly direct performance as the dad; with a single look and a perfectly timed throwaway line, he shows us precisely where Jon gets his warped perspective on human relations.

The only trouble with Don Jon is the film's comfort level with the kind of material that holds its hero enslaved.

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Naturally, any film that deals effectively with the subject of pornography is going to have an inescapable "ick" factor, and from his opening frames, Gordon-Levitt does a nice job showing how, from the moment we set children down in front of our TV sets, we're conditioning them to view women as sex objects. At one point we see a sex-soaked fast-food hamburger ad, shown almost in its entirety, that I was certain was a parody made for this movie until I found it on YouTube.

Still, a little bit of carefully cropped Internet porn goes a long way, and Don Jon subjects us to more than just a little bit. (Weirdly, the name of an actual porn website is prominently shown more than once, suggesting some truly counterintuitive product placement.)

So, don't take your mom to see Don Jon. But if you know someone who's got a little romance going on with his computer, by all means buy him a ticket. He won't see anything here that he hasn't seen already … and that includes the lonely look of a guy living his life at the whim of the cursed cursor.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.

 

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