Looking back over my recent reviews, I’ve noticed a trend of reviewing films that are either visually sexually explicit or are thematically about sexuality in the modern age. Rather than bucking that trend and showing my versatility as a film reviewer I’ve instead opted to review Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, a film which is both sexually explicit AND about sexuality in the modern age.
He stars in the titular role as a ladies man who successfully pulls a “10” on every night out – but has a porn addiction that ensures he still prefers aggressive masturbation sessions to actual intercourse. One night out he spots Barbara (Scarlett Johannson, who here successfully pulls off the most grating Jersey accent in cinematic history) a “perfect 10” who rejects his advances. After a brief stint of Facebook stalking, she agrees to date him, an arrangement which ruins Jon’s hand-shandy schedule.
Levitt is one of the best actors working in mainstream movies today, and shows enough confidence with the visual stylisation of this film to suggest he will have an equally solid career behind the camera. What the film doesn’t suggest is the arrival of a new screenwriting talent; his script piles upon the cliches (the cast act like they’ve only ever seen an episode of Jersey Shore as reference to how people from New Jersey actually act) and consistently makes the point about how terrible women are treated in the media – all the while ensuring that every female character in the film is either a love interest or a family member (Julianne Moore’s character is the biggest offender in this regard, and was the final nail in the coffin that affirmed how terrible the film is).
The film is billed as a comedy, yet the jokes consistently fall flat, while unbelievable plot points pile up, including Jon not knowing about the existence of internet history (which isn’t even played for laughs). The fact both of these plot points are unrealistic is irrelevant; in Shame, director Steve McQueen’s superior sex addiction drama, Michael Fassbender’s character has an addiction that consumes his entire life with details of porn watching that are not too dissimilar than those from Don Jon. But crucially it never goes into specific details or a deeper look into his psyche. That film succeeded due to the fact there was no voice-over; instead we were just presented with the realities of that character’s life. In Don Jon the voice-over consistently spouts attitudes towards women that are unapologetically sexist, admittedly giving us more of a window into the character’s point of view, but making him less believable as a human being who exists outside of a Hollywood script-writers imagination in the 21st century.
For a film that is directly about finding substance in modern relationships to divert from the crass lack of realism and overt stylisation of porn, it’s ironic how Levitt’s film seems devoid of it.