(2013)4.5Cammila CollarJoseph Gordon-Levitt triumphs both in front of the camera and behind it, writing, directing, and starring in the 2013 comedy-drama Don Jon. A smart, optimistic comment on everything from religion and mass media to identity and sexuality, the movie's core message is smartly presented in the framework of a bawdy comedy, but amazingly, the film's tone remains perfectly steady both when it's making you laugh and when it's making you think.
Gordon-Levitt plays the lead, an Italian-American, Jersey Shore-inspired bartender named Jon -- nicknamed Don Jon by his buddies for his unparalleled, Don Juan-esque skill at getting girls into bed. His life is an endless cycle of working out, hitting the club, banging hot women, and engaging in road rage from the driver's seat of his vintage Chevelle SS on the way to church -- where he confesses the past week's sins, receives forgiveness for them, and begins the routine again on Monday.
Of course, there's one more element to Jon's schedule that can't be left out: online porn. Curiously, his love of porn doesn't have any relationship to his sex life: Even after bedding the hottest girl at the bar, he still needs a quick solo session later that night in the glow of his laptop. There's clearly something he's getting from porn that he's not getting anywhere else, and while this pathology might seem troubling, Jon doesn't question it -- even when his latest conquest, a feisty beauty named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), leads to an actual relationship.
It would be a shame to give away any of the movie's key reveals, but it's not a spoiler to simply point out that, as a whole, Don Jon deals quite beautifully with the idea that real love can often be distinct from other phenomena that are commonly mistaken for love -- like the narcissistic desire to be loved. At one point, a classmate at Jon's night school (played by Julianne Moore) notices how much nicer his hair is when it's not full of gel. She observes that when it's not hard and sticky, she can actually touch it. This is just one of many clever little moments in the film that illustrate an ongoing theme about the search for satisfaction. It's a smart metaphor for the idea that making yourself look good to the eye rather than feel good to the touch is inherently insulating, leaving you at an arm's length from the deep person-to-person connections that might just quell the hunger that otherwise makes us retreat into fantasy.
Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his feature directorial debut with this funny yet earnest psychological comedy-drama about a womanizer named Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) who earns the nickname "Don Jon" for his ability to charm beautiful women, but remains unable to forge a meaningful connection with the opposite sex due to his all-consuming Internet porn addiction. Meanwhile, as Jon struggles to free himself from the realm of virtual debauchery, he connects with two disparate women (Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore), who separately try to teach him the true value of intimacy.