At first glance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first feature, “Don Jon,” as writer and director is a film about a guy with a porn obsession. But “Don Jon” is not a film about a self-destructive addiction and its consequences but rather explores the cause; Gordon-Levitt’s social commentary criticizes the unrealistic expectations created by our society and media.
Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) leads an average life for a young man in Jersey; he takes pride in his physique and his home while working as a bartender and spending most of his free time with his best friends (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) or routinely eating with his family (Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson) and attending church. His regular one night stands don’t satisfy him as much as porn does, and neither does his blossoming relationship with “dime” Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). After being confronted by a fellow classmate in his night course (Julianne Moore), Jon considers why he finds porn more appealing.
At the core of “Don Jon” stands an inspired social criticism and questioning of our expectations. The audience can recognize a variety of expectations evaluated by JGL; what men expect from women, what women expect from men, what our churches expect, what our families expect, and what our friends expect. Men cannot live up to the bar set by men in romantic dramas that do whatever their women ask of them. Women are supposed to be pieces of meat to conquer. Churches set guidelines and expect penance but become routine rather than meaningful. Our families expect the continued growth of our families. And our friends expect us to maintain the gender-specific roles to continue the battle between the sexes. Our whole existences are driven by men being “Men” and women being “Women,” from our commercials to our behavior.
One hopes that JGL will continue to be inspired with his filmmaking. He coaxes the best acting possible from his stars, notably Johansson’s demanding girlfriend and Danza’s macho father, along with providing his own challenging performance against his norm. The one and only criticism is the ending; the conclusion contradicts the film’s message of resetting expectations by rather suddenly dashing on a happily ever after, romantic ending; Jon’s closing narration suggests that once you meet the right person, you will fall into each other and settle with the things you didn’t want (like missionary position) and live happily without expectations. Despite the close to botched finish, audiences should now expect greatness from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as both an actor and director.
Rating for “Don Jon:” B+
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Don Jon” is playing at most theaters in Columbus but with limited showtimes at some locations, including Rave Polaris. For showtimes, click here.