Don Jon Scarlett Johannson

Oh, the halcyon days when romantic comedies dealt with dorks-turned-inamoratos and good-natured stalkers. Don Jon joins the ranks of recent films about leading men and ladies whose problem is not finding an eager mate but finding true intimacy when they would rather just hook up. For a New Jersey bartender as desirable as Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his first attempt as a feature writer and director) not even cavorts with local bombshells are enough to satisfy his sex hunger. The poor guy is addicted to porn, so deeply that he frequently slips out of bed after sex to continue pushing the limits of his genital stamina with a laptop.

Don Jon might come across as an extended parody of the Guido good life à la Jersey Shore, but our hero's sober voiceover—constantly soliloquizing about his love of porn—is only funny at first. The movie somewhat resembles a reality television show, given that most of the running time is pointedly devoted to variations on the same few scenes: Jon at the gym, in the club, doing confession at Church, eating noodles with his stock Italian family (starring Tony Danza in matching wifebeater). All this redundancy is only amplified by the dialogue, which often just recounts earlier developments with a lot of cuss words. It doesn't take long to realize that this flick (which screened at Sundance as Don Jon's Addiction) is less about porn than it is about Jon’s obsession with himself. 

Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt

But is it even parody? It’s hard to say, since the marketing campaign calls the film a comedy-drama, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt keeps a straight face in interviews when using the release to plug his online production initiative, hitRECord. The movie’s jaunty opening montage parades scantily clad women on television, and for a moment, I expected the plot to poke fun at a degrading media culture, when in fact it becomes part of the problem. The screenplay never quite secures its grip on profound satire, and carelessly allows goofy bro talk to lapse into plain sexism. Within minutes, we hear our main character list the deficiencies in body and technique of the women he beds (in exhaustive detail), and the majority of jokes have to do with female appearance. Hints of overconfidence exist beyond the screenplay: the camerawork sometimes features sweeping tracking shots, and sometimes goes handheld, either way drawing more attention than it deserves.

Thankfully, the women of the film are what save the movie, bringing something fresh to the table—for Jon, a chance at lasting love, and for us, some seasoned comic chops. Scarlett Johansson plays Barbara, the only one of Jon's maidens who refuses to disrobe on the first night, and a few words of her sultry Jersey accent (and do I detect a twang of East Coast Jewish mother?) are all it takes to bring Jon to his knees. But only Julianne Moore seems able to depart fully from caricature in the role of a widowed night school student named Esther, who cries a lot, and teaches Jon to open both his fly and his heart to a woman.

Julianne Moore Don Jon

Perhaps Esther and Barbara’s appeal are proof of Jon's psychosexual mother-fixation, but I think that would be reading too deep. Love is confusing enough, and Don Jon makes a novel attempt to reorient a generation that seems to care more about physical gratification than sincere affection. The comedy sometimes packs a punch, and there’s ample Italian-American kitsch. But Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts a little too much faith in his masculine charm to put the movie across; so much intense sexual prowess can be exhausting, for the audience.