Friday, 24 January 2014

Don Jon

Hmmm. Not sure what to make of this comedy-drama about a porn addict who is also one of the most faithful thirty-something church-attendees I have seen depicted in film. Every Sunday, Jon is in the confession booth, telling the priest how often he’s been watching porn on his laptop, after which he receives absolution (with the appropriate penance of ‘Our-Father’s’ and ‘Hail-Marys’). Jon, who has no problem finding a different woman (always an ‘8’, ‘9’, or ‘10’) each week to have sex with, prefers masturbating in front of the laptop. At least until Barbara (a ‘10’) and Esther come into his life. In very different ways, these two women will challenge Jon’s addiction (Jon, of course, doesn’t admit to having an addiction; indeed, he states repeatedly that “all men watch porn every day” and implies that anyone who doesn’t believe that is naive). 

There are many fun and refreshing things about Don Jon. Jon’s semi-dysfunctional middle-class family is hilarious (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are wonderful as Jon’s parents); the dialogue is frank and intelligent (and often funny); there are endless discussion-starters for the right kind of small group (I imagine such groups are rare); and there are occasional nuggets of wisdom. All in all, I applaud Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing debut. And his acting (he plays Jon) was, as usual, also very good, as was the acting of Scarlett Johansson as Barbara and Julianne Moore as Esther. 

However, despite all the good acting and the wit and wisdom, Don Jon frequently turned me off. Here I am referring to its depiction of men. To be fair, the flaws of the film’s women are also on display, but they come off far far better than the men. There is not a single sympathetic man in the film (and I include both Jon and the priest). Anyone who wants proof of the adage “All men are jerks” needs to look no further than Don Jon (and The Hangover, etc.). To the men in Don Jon, women are numbers from one to ten  (with limited criteria) and they exist to be bedded. Men exist to watch sports, to watch (and talk degradingly about) women, to drive hot cars while swearing at all the other drivers on the road (especially on the way to church on Sunday morning) and just basically to be ignorant buffoons (or jerks). Only Esther comes across as a fully-developed character. I understand if Gordon-Levitt is painting this picture of men and women as a satire, but either I live in a bubble (which of course I do) and this kind of depiction is truer than I think, or this film is only likely to reinforce stereotypes in its exaggerated negative portrayal of men (even decent men). Either way, it doesn’t work for me. For all his good traits, even Jon was difficult to relate to (and it wasn’t his addiction that bothered me). 

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this entertaining intelligent rom-com much more than the average rom-com and more than I thought I would, so I will give Don Jon a solid ***. My mug is up. But be warned: This is not a typical date movie!

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