Film Review: DON JON: porno addict drama deserves stick

Posted on at


DON JON, written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has an extremely slick trailer that belies an empty movie. It’s about a guy, Jon (Gordon-Levitt, creaming the lead role) whose life is neatly compartmentalised into confessing at church, hanging with the guys, pumping at the gym, hooking up in bars and playing with the thing between his legs at home. That’s right - he watches porn on his PC. He scores with the most beautiful women and yet he prefers pornography. Now Jon has the kind of voiceover that invites us to sympathise with him, except that it covers up for the fact that he is all about self-gratification of the moment. He doesn’t want a girlfriend nor a family. He does not believe in true love. It is to Gordon-Levitt’s credit that we don’t switch off straightaway – hell, if you’re that self-satisfied, why do you need me to watch? However, this is a film about addictive behaviour that doesn’t acknowledge the pain of the addiction. It’s rather like Steve McQueen’s SHAME (2011) without the – er, well – shame.

The film lasted a nano-second in the majority of UK cinemas. Yet it has been claimed by a gay audience who find Gordon-Levitt’s kitsch version of sex addiction entirely relatable. Five guys gathered to attend the screening I attended and good luck to them. There were also some Japanese tourists who maybe thought this was a sequel of sorts to his last star vehicle, PREMIUM RUSH.

Gordon-Levitt’s major achievement in the movie is to make Scarlett Johansson seem unattractive. She plays a Jersey girl initially rebuffs Jon yet goes on a date with him. Johansson’s character isn’t like other girls. She allows him to dry hump her. Jon gets through an awful lot of pants (as the Americans say) and, yes, we do see his dirty laundry. She plays hard-to-get but eventually is gotten. She catches Jon doing the porn thing after sex and can’t frigging believe it. She does let him off though, until he checks out his computer later. It turns out Jon has never heard of ‘history’.

Now Johansson’s caricature does one thing for him; she encourages him to go back to college. There he meets a much older student (Julianne Moore) who catches him watching porn on his cell phone. She is unfazed and tries to give him a book on erotic literature. He has no interest in it. She has a tragic past but becomes his salvation. He learns to lose himself in another person. Wait a minute, isn’t that just a metaphor for acting?

DON JON is a film that is entirely surface that actually isn’t about anything. Gordon-Levitt makes the point that he is like his father (Tony Danza) in many ways. Where Jon Senior is addicted to football and wants to live in the moment – forget TiVo (the source of one of their arguments) – Jon Junior likes his pornography. They are both alpha males who sit at the dinner table in vests to show off their forearms. Jon’s mother (Glenne Headly) is equally shrill. The still centre of the family table is Jon’s phone-addicted sister (Brie Larson) who in one crushingly contrived moment offers a moment of clarity that Jon needs. (‘She wasn’t interested in you for yourself. She just wanted you to do stuff.’)

I didn’t believe that Jon’s addiction could be cured by a relationship with an older woman, but Moore makes her character halfway credible nevertheless. I’m not sure what she would see in Jon, though, except as a distraction for her pain. I would give the relationship a month.

Jon’s friends only exist as sounding boards. They don’t appear to be real people with real jobs. Although Jon is supposed to be in the service industry, he doesn’t appear to work. Yet he has a great apartment. What the fly?

We know how unhappy Jon is by his frustrations when driving, cursing other motorists and at one point smashing a window. In the funniest part of the trailer and what is effectively the end of the movie, he sings to himself un-self-consciously. Progress? The script is heavily schematic, down to the repeated scenes of confession at church that are a running joke; his absolution is cursory whatever he does.

Gordon-Levitt’s direction is confident and self-assured, even roping in cameos from Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum and Cuba Gooding Jr. It is also airless. He never lingers on scenes of pornography, though the film may be unsuitable for those with a photo-sensitive disposition – the editing is pretty fast during the addiction bits. It is also unsuitable for those who like films about real people. 

Reviewed at Cineworld Trocadero, Shaftesbury Avenue, 19:00 show Wednesday 18 December 2013 



About the author

LarryOliver

Independent film critic who just wants to witter on about movies every so often. Very old (by Hollywood standards).

Subscribe 10022
160