Sex is a form of communication. I was taught that when I was 13, and it made the notion of someday getting naked - naked! - with another person and doing incredibly intimate stuff less intimidating. I mean, it was still scary, but I figured if I just established communication with the other person, both in words and with our b-b-b-bodies, there was the outside chance I might get through the encounter without dying of embarrassment.
Don Jon, written, directed and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, deals with a young man who draws considerable satisfaction, and a large portion of his fashion sense, from Internet porn. He enjoys sex with lots of women, but prefers porn because it allows him to get "lost" in a way he cannot during a real world rendezvous. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) begins dating a young woman whose relationship expectations appear to be based on romantic comedies. They are drawn to each other - they look so good together! - but it soon becomes clear that "what we've got here is (a) failure to communicate."
The slight, effective story is about a clueless man who tries to go from point A to point B. It looks like a short, obvious journey from our vantage point, but it isn't for Jon. Don Jon is set just down the street from where the characters in Saturday Night Fever lived. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a good-looking fellow with a gym-sculpted body (just like the guys in the porn clips!), slicked back hair and a square jaw. He doesn't swagger so much as walk purposefully with a swaggering undertone.
Don Jon (nicknamed for his way with women) is a self-created exaggeration of a human inspired by the porn world, where the men have bulging muscles and plus-size dicks, and the woman have huge breasts and va-va-voom asses to complement them. Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Jon's potential girlfriend, is a self-created exaggeration of a human inspired by kicky romcom women, and she expects her men to behave like proper romcom dreamboats. Both self-creations are strongly influenced by their environment as well, so there's a dose of Jersey Shore in their style and values.
The supporting players, including Jon's parents (Gleanne Headly and - good to see him - Tony Danza), are stereotypes. That may be commentary by Gordon-Levitt on people falling into roles rather than daring to live freestyle, or it may be lazy writing. Either way, it fits the film's motif. Later, Esther (Julianne Moore) enters Jon's life. She's older, earthier and doesn't act like anyone he's ever met. The richness of Moore's character makes me suspect that the stereotypical characters are indeed deliberate.
Gordon-Levitt directs the film in a snappy, in-your-face fashion befitting his lead character's porn-ish macho persona. Meanwhile, Nathan Johnson offers a lush score that would fit nicely in a Douglas Sirk '50s romance. The contrasting styles work together very well. There's lots of humor in Don Jon, but no smirking at Jon's sexual habits. I liked that. I also liked Jon's matter-of-fact approach to masturbation. He understands it's a normal, healthy activity, but appears to have no idea that everybody doesn't do it as often as him (his record is 11 times in one day).
While I enjoyed the repeated scenes of his confessions at church, I wondered what the inclusion of numerous scenes of him on the road hollering at other drivers was all about. And I wonder why the film suggested that one should choose between masturbation and sex with a partner. Don't most people do both? Regardless, Don Jon is a nice surprise. I feared the movie would be a skeevy drag, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt, already established as a top-flight actor, makes it shine, proving himself to be a promising writer-director as well.