While Joseph Gordon-Levitt does show some greenness in his directional debut by allowing the second half of Don Jon to meander around a little too much, which slows down the entire narrative in a anemic way, Don Jon is actually relatively entertaining movie as long as you get past the nasal Jersey accents.
In essence JGL’s tale of modern day Don Juan provides an interesting look at the soul life of a stereotypical American Guido male and for a subject that could have easily ended up being a laughable, pretentious and insipid train wreck, it actually holds up relatively well. It has an unique viewpoint concerning the problems of the current days where the perception of people largely consists of them being immature, self-absorbed, emotionally disconnected individuals and how poorly that reflects to their romantic relationships. In its basic form, the movie is a story about selfishness, as well as growing up and learning to be less narcissistic as an individual and respecting your partner as an equal. Which is a way nicer way of saying that it’s about a guy having a porn addiction and what tumultuous changes take place in his life as he slowly discovers that having a real relationship requires maturity and emotional equality, a concept that initially is completely foreign to him.
The story itself is rather simple, Jon starts out as a typical young man whose life revolves around the simple things in life: keeping himself physical fit, emphasizing one night stands, status objects like his car and flat, family, etc. Then he meets Scarlett Johansson and something strange occurs: he begins to want to form a real relationship and after painstaking efforts finally starts dating Scarlett. But despite his claims of being happy, all is not well in casa del Jon. He still can’t find true sexual satisfaction unless it’s through pornography, which is the beginning of the end for his life with ScarJo, as it’s no time at all before she discovers Jon’s habit of late night masturbation. Being a true addict, Jon lies to cover his activities and vows to never to watch porn, only to then keep indulging his habit in secret. This ends up being an unusual segway to introduce Julianne Moore into he picture, when she catches Jon browsing porn during a class at community college they both attend. The two eventually form an unusual friendship and it’s not soon after that the inevitable happens and Jon’s secret porn paroozing is exposed to ScarJo when she checks his browser history and the relationship ends because she cannot stomach such duplicity. Fortunately this is not 500 days of Summer, so instead of moping about it, the break up ends up working as a springboard for Jon’s personal growth. He tries returning to his old shallow lifestyle, seemingly having learned nothing, only to discover his old life to be lacking. To complete his journey to maturity, Jon ends up engaging in a casual sex relationship with Julianne Moore, who is able to show through perseverance that Jon’s problem has been his own selfishness, and what he needs is to understand that a relationship needs mutual sexual equality, unlike the one way street that is porn. Cue credits and Jon being a more happy, mature person, walking hand to hand with Julianne Moore to the sunset.
Now, the story itself isn’t particularly groundbreaking, it’s basic romance centered personal growth story. But what was interesting to me, is the relationship between JGL and Johansson as it shows just how toxic mutual narcissism is for a couple. As we all know, two wrongs don’t make one right, so their relationship was doomed from the start. Both of them share the same basic fault in different, fascinating forms. With Jon, he was a victim of his porn addiction, that itself was merely a symptom of Jon’s selfish nature and inability to recognize his inner narcissism and that’s what leads to them splitting up. Scarlett’s character on the other hand liked to have everything go her way. For example her insistence on abstinence at first glance seemed like a admirable way to look for the “real thing” in the sea of superficial casual hook ups, but it’s ultimately revealed to be a bit of a self-entitled power trip, to get guys to pamper her wishes. You might even call it a princess complex. She likes controlling her significant other, and never gives any real consideration to what her partner wants. This is depicted very clearly in the exchange that Jon and she have when they’re at the store looking at drapes or something and Jon happens to casually mention that he likes personally to clean his pad. Rather than act normally, Scarlett’s character instantly starts to insist that he stops doing that and gets a maid to do it for him. She selfishly cannot abide the idea of her boyfriend doing menial tasks, not even when Jon says he actually enjoys doing the cleaning personally. To her mind, what Jon prefers isn’t even worth considering, or even the point. It’s about getting her way that matters. Now, the important thing to note here is that when JGL eventually realizes his own faults after the break up and makes motions to apologize to ScarJo for being an ass, she is still unable to see past her own shallow desires and still puts the blame entirely on Jon. Even when Jon points out that her argument doesn’t hold up, she wasn’t merely asking one thing of him (namely to not watch porn) as she claims, it was actually a never ending stream of demands coming from her that he could never realistically meet, she still refuses to self-reflect and consider the validity of Jon’s claim and instead walks out. So, of the two, only JGL was able to walk out of their failed relationship with personal growth for the better, and only because he was able to acknowledge his personal failings and try to apologize while ScarJo still remains blind and ignorant.
I guess we still need to talk about the use of porn in this movie. As adult entertainment consuming individual, I already know this is going to be seen through my biased, rose-tinted glasses. On a technical level, the editing for the scenes depicting Jon as he’s browsing adult sites was visually very well made. It’s fluid, fast, titillating and well conducted visual stimuli and it beautifully represents the seductive, addictive nature of the process for the inner release that porn gives to Jon. It really makes me wonder what the initial NC-17 cut looked like, as JGL ended up toning down what you can see on the screen so that he could get the lower R-rating. I’m not entirely sure if JGL is trying to damn the use of porn, or simply pointing out the emptiness of it when you rely entirely on satisfying your sexuality through a PC screen and an Internet connection. I kinda end up leaning against both interpretations, as there’s certainly validity to both sides, so maybe Gordon-Levitt’s aim was also to fall somewhere in the middle. You cannot treat your partner as just a tool to get your rocks off, like you do with porn. There needs to be a mutual symbiosis for a healthy sex life. But idealistically, porn is not inherently bad and with a corruptible touch either as long as you know how to treat and think of porn as. It’s not really that different from other forms of disposable mass entertainment, as as long as you’re aware and in control, it’s not inherently bad.
The ending of the movie is, of course, very predictable and cheesy and so typical of Hollywood. Though it tries to maintain its integrity with a last minute “oh but it’s totally not like we’re going to form a long lasting partnership akin to marriage” assurance, you don’t really buy into it. But it doesn’t bug me that much, I can give that a pass because it’s not obnoxious as much as it is just corny. It certainly would have been more palatable to depict Jon having grown up as a human being without thrusting him into this lame quasi-relationship with Julianne Moore’s character, however free it is from the old ball and chain commitment it is meant to be. Had it been something more in the lines of the two of them being in friends with benefits relationship while Jon, now that he was past the one and done attitude to picking up women, was shown in a montage to date and trying to look for a more healthy relationship and perhaps with time become more of a real friend to Moore’s character, it would at least made me more content. That way you still had Jon mature, but not fall to the first woman he had a real, meaningful sexual relations with.