Why Don Jon is Awesome

“A romance film from the blokes point of view”


Let's get one thing out of the way: I expect this film to be incredibly divisive, as it certainly does not shy away from graphic content. That fact, however, does not stop it from being the best film I've seen this year.

Going in to Don Jon, I knew three things: it was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, starred himself, alongside Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, and was described as “sexy”. Having not read a single blurb or synopsis or logline, I really didn't know what to expect from the film, so when it started I was instantly taken aback; cut in between the opening credits were various gratuitous porn scenes. “Well,” I thought, “that certainly sets the tone”.

“Don Jon: the ultimate of Playa”

Throughout the next 90 minutes I was treated to a rollercoaster ride; often hilarious, intelligent, sometimes very touching and almost always surreal, this is a beautifully crafted film that hits the right notes and finds the right balance in just about every way. JGL is fantastic in the role of “Don” Jon - named so by his friends for his ability to pull “10s” every night - a young man from New Jersey who objectifies everything in his life, from his home, to his car, to his body to women. He's also a huge porn addict - though it takes over half the film for him to admit that he is addicted - who believes porn is better than the real thing, despite regularly getting it. He goes to Church with his family every week, where he visits the confession box and, in rather blasé fashion, confesses to watching pornographic material, having sex out of wed-lock, and masturbating, always stating the exact number of times he has done so for each. After, he goes to his parents for a meal, where he gets into arguments with his father, is pressed about “finding the one” by his mother and his sister merely sits there silently on her phone.

“The family dynamic is perfect”

Dissatisfied with his sex life – which would be absolutely stellar for anyone other than Hugh Hefner – he sets out to find meaningful sex via a relationship with the gorgeous Scarlett Johanssons' Barbara Sugarman. Scarlett becomes the role completely, not merely dressing the part, but sounding the part with a great Jersey accent, and pulling off the mannerisms perfectly, with her swaying walk, one arm permanently held up as if carrying a tray, and constantly chewing gum. Barbara refuses sex with Jon at first, and he has to work at the relationship in a way he's not used to: taking her for dinner, going to the movies, meeting her friends and family, introducing her to his, and so on. She also presses him to take a night class to make something of himself other than being “in the service industry” (he's a barman), and he obliges to all her demands, finding himself falling rapidly in love with her. It was easy to warm to Barbara, and I felt a little sorry for her when she finally did have sex with him, only for him to still be more interested in porn. When she first catches him watching it she freaks out, but he casually feeds her a lie, leading him to hide his porn habits from her for the rest of the relationship.

“Scarlett Johansson is typically stunning, though her acting is what is truly special about her role”

There's a moment, however, that really flipped my feelings for Barbara, where I went from liking her well enough, to realising she was, in fact, a pretty horrible person; whilst shopping for curtain rails, Jon says he's just going to grab some cleaning pads, to which Barbara is incredibly disdainful and demands that he stop cleaning his house and use her maid instead – cleaning your own house is apparently only for the common and poor. Despite his protests that he likes to clean his own place, and takes pride in it, she is derisive and outright horrible to him about it, though he eventually capitulates.

Julianne Moore's Esther comes into play around the halfway mark, and has a big impact on Jon, with her far wiser views of the world. It is through her that Jon develops the most, and it's a two way thing (you'll get why I say that when you watch the film). Esther is beautiful nugget of a character, one that doesn't have so much screen time, but never the less is fully realised, intriguing and likeable.

The message of the film is that there's more to life and love than the “happy ending” we see in typical romance and romcom films. Love and sex are two way streets, all about losing yourself in someone else, not just about the big wedding, or a man giving everything up to be with a woman, or a woman doing everything to please a man in the bedroom. It's a really down to earth, poignant, touching and well demonstrated message.

“Despite having less screen time than the other two main characters, Julianne Moore's Esther is arguably the most influential”

Honestly, I could happily go on talking through the plot, highlighting all the little foreshadowing (my favourite is when Jon gets caught out watching porn because he doesn't know what browser history is, when earlier in the film he has an argument with his Dad about not knowing what Tivo is), the clever comparisons and little twists (the first and only time Jon's sister speaks is fantastic), and I could probably write an essay on the cinematography alone (seriously, it beautifully and cleverly shot), but to keep this review to a manageable level, I'll start to wrap up now.

The film is brilliantly acted, brilliantly written, brilliantly shot and directed and has a genuinely meaningful, heart-warming message that is neither sickly sweet nor incredibly unrealistic. My tagline states that this is a romance film from the blokes point of view, and whilst that is accurate, that is not to say that this is a blokes only film – women can take just as much out of it both from a enjoyment and a message point of view.

JGL has definitely made his mark with his first directorial outing, and I hope to see more of this calibre from him in the future.

This has been Blacksmith, writing for The Awesome Update.

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