Oh, Donnie boy…
“There’s only a few things I really care about in life,” a rich, deep boston voice says as we look at him staring at his bright laptop screen shirtless in a dark room. “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, and my porn.”
That last one doesn’t really belong there, but whatever, its in there. The man we are looking at is Joe Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a thick, cut, and strongly appealing young man who has a slick, black haircut and a grin on his face that looks like he just finished up business in the bedroom. His friends call him “The Don” because he’s able to score “dimes” on the weekends, which is another way of saying “That woman is a ten!”
One night in the bar, Donnie meets the best dime he’s ever seen: Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful blonde bombshell that turns heads and raises attention everywhere she goes. To Donnie, this is simply another case of trying to score a hot night, but Barbara isn’t that easy. She wants something more meaningful than just a one-night stand: she wants an affectionate, fairytale relationship, the cheesy kind you see in those unbearable romantic comedies starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum.
So Donnie takes a deep breath and waits it out, hoping for her to come around eventually and give him the chance to slip under the covers with her. The more time he spends with her, however, the more his addiction to pornography gets in the way and stops him from having a more meaningful relationship. Now conflicted between his feelings between Barbara and his dependency on pornography, Donnie needs to figure out which is more important to him before she leaves him and all he has left is his laptop and his internet wifi.
Before I continue, let me issue a short disclaimer. If you do not like R rated movies, do not watch this movie. If you don’t like looking at nudity, do not watch this movie. If you don’t like swearing, do not watch this movie. And if you don’t like movies about sex, DEFINITELY do not watch this movie. This is a picture stuffed to the mouthful with sex, nudity, T&A, F-words, censored and uncensored pornography to the point where I believe it deserved, and should have been rated, NC-17.
The only reason I issue this warning is because I know my readers, and the majority of my readers do not appreciate sexually explicit films that make jokes about the male/female anatomy and what goes on inside the bedroom. Their views are warranted, and in many ways I share many of those same views with my readers. I, however, am not as close-minded to this idea if it means not enjoying Don Jon, and believe me, that is a very hard thing to do.
That’s probably the worst word I could have used to describe this picture just now, but nevermind. Don Jon is good. Very good. How good? So good that it made me, a conservative reviewer who hates excessive nudity, enjoy it very, very much. Trust me, I am not easy to please. If you don’t believe me, you will when I tell you I rated The Hangover as the worst picture of 2009.
I find it interesting how effective Gordon-Levitt is here as a filmmaker. His writing is fresh, fun, and original, exercising dialogue that is both clever and witty while at the same time being deeply meaningful and expressive. The cast is equally brilliant, as their charismatic portrayals breathe life into these characters in ways that not even an animated rendition could do.
What I find more interesting, however, is how Gordon-Levitt handles this film as a director, using space and situations in his film to define Jon’s character and to show what sort of emotional state he’s in.
For instance, look at how he shows Jon’s everyday routine. When Jon wakes up in the morning, he cleans his room the best way a bachelor knows how, he drives to Church, he goes to confession, he eats lunch with his family, he works out at the gym, he goes to a club to meet some beautiful lady, and then he ends his nights watching a skimpy porn video.
Got it? Okay, now look at the variations of this same routine shown throughout the film. At first its just the same thing over and over again, but later as Jon’s character changes, so does how he behaves during his routines. When he’s depressed, his room get messy. When he’s excited, he sings to Marky Mark in the car. When he’s optimistic, he exercises with other people when he goes to the gym. But what remains consistent in all of these sequences is him going to confessional and confessing his sins to the Catholic Priest he’s never met, hoping one day to have a clean slate in the eyes of the father.
I don’t think this movie is about a man struggling with his addiction to pornography. I think this movie is about a man struggling between his lusts and sexual desires and the guilt he silently feels he needs to be redeemed from. Think about it for a second. Why else would he go to Church so frequently despite his promiscuous lifestyle? He’s a grown man, he knows he doesn’t have to go to church if he doesn’t want to. So why does he go so frequently even though his lifestyle isn’t congruent to that of a catholic? There’s a deepness developing silently to Don Jon that can only be barely noticed, and if you don’t look out for it, it will slip you past you.
There’s obviously the negative element of watch a movie about pornography, and I would be the first to agree with you. Even though the pornography is at times censored, its still there, and we can’t help but visualize everything because we’re seeing a rendition of it on the screen.
Still, since we’re talking about pornography, let me retaliate with another film that is also about addiction: a 2011 film titled Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen. Like Don Jon, Shame is about a man who holds an unsatiated lust for porn and sex, and his life sinks into a swamp of sadness and depression because of his unsatiated hunger. Unlike Don Jon, however, Shame is downtrodden, depressing, sickening, despicable, ugly, demeaning, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, outside of the acting and the composition.
Don Jon is different. Unlike Shame, it is upbeat, energetic and joyous, and even though there are dramatic moments in the movie, there is never a moment that feels ugly, sickening, or unclean. Don Jon is a stylish, articulate, and simply brilliant dramedy. It is not only a film filled with clever dialogue and solid character development: it actually has a good, wholesome message to take away from the story, something to make you appreciate the small things in life that you never really notice. I know some people are going to look at this movie from a first glance and ask “Why would I want to watch a feature-length pornography?” Believe me, fellow reader, if this film can even be categorized as a pornography, its probably the best of its kind.
On a closing note, please don’t tell my mother.