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The Best of 2013: 'Don Jon'

Property of Twentieth Century Fox
Property of Twentieth Century FoxJoseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut satirizing one-sided relationships, whether it is a person or with porn, in 'Don Jon'

Don Jon


The funniest and most intellectual romantic comedy of 2013 is Don Jon, lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut. The word, intellectual, is being used with a grain of salt, but it is a very intelligent film for what it attempts to talk about. On one hand, this film talks a lot about masturbation. On the other cleaner hand, it is about love. What is a one-sided relationship if not also a discussion into what is selfish gratification. There have been a few films out in the annals of love-analyzing cinema that pick apart what it means to really be in love versus screenwriting forcing love onto an audience ala When Harry Met Sally versus Pearl Harbor where love just happens for the sake of the plot.

For the first half of the film however, you will get mostly discussion about porn, masturbation and pre-conceived notions of what the characters should be attracted to and rigid plans on how to love a person. All of these elements can be considered generally unhealthy in terms of expectation, for the exception of masturbation where no one's feelings can be hurt... except where pride is concerned. This cautionary tale, of sorts, for this film is to not arbitrarily make yourself a lonely person by putting rigid thoughts into your head that are designed to fit standards. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a New Jersey therapy-required sex addict version of Robert De Niro, constantly smirking and scoffing at things that do not fit his perspectives on rigid discipline. He feels he has everything figured out in his life and constantly reminds himself with interior monologues (his thoughts) that this is the way it should be and how disappointed he becomes when it does not fit expectation. Jon eventually meets his version of a 'perfect ten,' a curvacious blonde called Barbara played by Scarlett Johansson, who may be his perfect, misguided match for him in terms of personality. This leads to one of the most important realizations in the entire film. Just because this partner may fit all the characteristics you are looking for, have a personality that is almost exactly like yours, and may even have a more romantic ideology that may strengthen a relationship—this does not mean that they will help you grow as a person. Growth is the key to a good relationship and not stagnation.

Since Jon is stuck in a world of stagnation, Barbara's character has a way of pushing Jon into places that do not make him grow or want to change for the better. He simply exists as she plans a life FOR him. Other elements in Barbara's life that reference her pre-conceived notions of love are present in her teddy bear-covered childhood bedroom in a scene where Jon and Barbara make out near a giant poster for Titanic that happens to be hung on top of the door that Barbara would have seen every day she exited her room. Even though their relationship collapses due to Jon's obsessions with porn, it is actually Jon's inability to be completely happy with his love life that is the real culprit. As Jon goes back to college to keep Barbara happy, he meets Esther played by a lovely veteran of cinematic romanticism, Julianne Moore, whose honesty and upfront attitude quickly alienates Jon. As Barbara and Jon fight, Jon asks the advice for the older Esther in order to make sense of everything in his life. When Jon's own parents (played to Jersey-bred perfection by Tony Danza and Glenne Headly) are not helpful either in the advice department, Jon turns to Esther for help. Little does Jon know, that Esther is exactly what he needs: a woman that actually listens and encourages him with thoughts and ideas he had never thought of before. This is the true brilliance of this film.

It puts out this question to the audience: how many relationships out there are one-sided relationships where one is using the other for self-gratification? The fantasy of porn that Jon is obsessed with is, in fact, a one-sided relationship. A real relationship that involves a real love is a two-sided relationship, complete with an equal transfer of ideas, thoughts, growth, and of course intercourse. Ha.