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ReThink Review: Don Jon - Porn Vs. Sex? A Guido's Dilemma

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One can argue when was the exact moment when internet porn reached absolute ubiquity in the networked world, but no one can argue that we're certainly there now. And while it's considered hip and liberal (and arguably correct) to see porn as something that's relatively harmless (especially when compared to onscreen violence) that empowers women and exposes our puritanical hypocrisy, no population in history has ever experienced the utter deluge of pornographic material that we're living through today. There's just so much porn that's so accessible, and we have no idea what (if any) effect a steady diet of porn might have on human brains. And, as with anything, you can be sure that there will be some people who won't be able to control their consumption of it to the point that it begins to adversely affect their lives and relationships.

In a span of just two weeks, two movies have come out with major actors that examine the effects porn and an overly sexualized culture can have on men who become obsessed and overwhelmed by it. Last week had the surprisingly good dramedy Thanks For Sharing, which followed four people in various stages of recovery in a sex addicts anonymous support group. This week it's Don Jon, which was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and finds JGL playing a guido straight out of a Jersey Shore casting session whose relationship with his dream girl (Scarlett Johansson) is jeopardized by his love of porn. If you've seen ads for Don Jon that make it seem like a fairly standard romantic comedy, that description might surprise you. But that's because Don Jon often feels and often looks like two kinds of movies awkwardly mashed together. Watch my ReThink Review of Don Jon below (transcript following).

Transcript:

Fewer actors are hotter right now than Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Along with being a rare TV-to-movie success story, he's got great taste in projects, from indie standouts like 500 Days of Summer and 50/50 to working with Hollywood's heaviest hitters in Lincoln, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises, as well as interesting hybrids like Looper. So if you, like everyone else, wants more JGL, you're about to get a whole lot of him in Don Jon, which he wrote, directed, and stars in as a Jersey Shore-type meathead who meets his dream girl. But beware -- the ads for Don Jon, which make it seem like a straight-up romantic comedy -- are quite misleading, since that represents only part of a film that felt so jarringly inconsistent as to almost seem schizophrenic.

A strikingly buff Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, who literally seems like a Jersey Shore cast member and shares their dedication to working out, obsessive cleanliness, good buddies (played by Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke), and non-stop sexual conquests, which earned Jon the Don title. But Jon's bachelor ways get disrupted by a beauty named Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson) sporting an impressive Jersey accent, who Jon falls for because (or in spite of) the fact that she seems immune to his player skills. Totally smitten, Jon starts doing the previously unthinkable, like waiting multiple dates for sex, watching sappy romantic movies, and even signing up for night classes, where he starts an unlikely friendship with Esther, an eccentric and overly emotional fellow student played by Julianne Moore.

But the one thing Jon is unwilling or unable to give up is internet porn, which may be Jon's one true love. And this is where Don Jon starts to get schizo. The idea of what a womanizing Jersey Shore meathead will do for true love sounds like a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy premise, and the fact that Jon loves porn and, in most ways, prefers it to actual sex is initially played for laughs and to give you a sense of what kind of guy he is. But Don Jon then, somewhat awkwardly, becomes about porn addiction and the larger implications of the fact that Jon can't stop watching it, even after a stern threat from Barbara.

This is when Don Jon starts to look and feel more like an indie movie, as the film goes from standard evenly-lit rom-com lighting to more handheld, underlit and grainy. The jokes, which rarely struck me as laugh-out-loud funny, largely disappear as Esther, who you hardly see at all in Don Jon's ads, becomes a central character. In look and in tone, Don Jon started to remind me of something that Kevin Smith might've made if he'd continued on the funny-yet-emotionally-real track he seemed to be on with Chasing Amy, though with a lot fewer laughs and less interesting dialogue. But perhaps Don Jon's biggest disappointment is having Brie Larson, who gave one of 2013's best performances in Short Term 12, playing Jon's younger sister, who spends the whole movie on her smartphone and has just a single line of dialogue.

Gordon-Levitt, who gives a committed performance, really seems like one of Hollywood's good guys, especially with his Hit RECord project, and is a legitimate talent, but I'm afraid Don Jon is just too all-over-the-place for me to recommend. The supposedly funny part of the movie isn't that funny, the dialogue didn't feel particularly sharp, and as a whole, Don Jon feels long despite its 90-minute runtime, probably because it feels like two separate movies -- a studio rom-com with guidos, and a coming-of-age indie about porn addiction and narcissism. Gordon-Levitt has such a stellar record of great films that I'd never count him out, but while Don Jon is a confident first film, its inconsistencies don't make it a particularly good one.

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