Don Jon ***
One Liner Review:
An interesting comedic drama, about a guy with a porn addiction who has to navigate his way through a new relationship.
Don Jon is funny for a while, until it wears out its welcome. It’s not that we really get tired of it or anything, but that the movie changes. It has a first half and a second half that almost feel as if they are part of different movies. The first half is all about him dating Scarlet Johansen, and then in the second half, it’s onto something totally different. the first half is great. That’s where everything from the trailers comes in. the second half is fine and entertaining, but it’s just not on the same level. We end up trading humor for drama, and that’s not exactly what we expected or wanted out of this film.
Don Jon is a pretty good movie. That’s because it has some funny ideas, characters, and personalities. There’s Joseph Gordon Levitt hanging out in wife-beater tank tops, talking with a jersey accent about all the things he loves in life. This guy’s got a Saturday Night Fever kind of Italian family and is a total player. And then there’s Scarlet Johansen, also mastering a Jersey accent and showing that she can pull off the playful banter that would make this guy really be interested in her.
Everything seems great from the outside, looking in. there are these two leads who absolutely thrive on their chemistry, and then there’s this plot about john (Levitt) enjoying porn, and how Barbara Sugarman (Johansen), catches him watching it one night. That looks like it would make for a very funny scene, and it does, but would you believe the movie basically centers around that scene? it’s great for a scene, but not great for an entire movie.
part of the problem is that john isn’t just a regular guy who watches porn like every other guy. john is basically obsessed with it. he watches and gets off on porn multiple times a day. he watches it on a cell phone during a class in a lecture hall. this guy has beautiful women come over to his apartment, sleeps with them, and then sneaks off into the next room while they are asleep to watch porn and get off by himself.
porn isn’t just a daily activity for john, it’s more like a friend. i’m surprised he doesn’t talk about some of his favorite porno actors or some of his favorite porno situations… the locker room, the school teacher, the shower, things like that. it would have made this movie a lot funnier if he talked about the ridiculous logistics of some of the scenes and how he didn’t really care whether they were realistic or not. or it could have gone the opposite way, and said how while he was watching pornos he sometimes started wondering about the plot… how did the characters get here and what are they doing? something like that. unfortunately, the movie skips over any discussion of porno storylines at all.
that’s because the movie doesn’t want to do that much work. it wants to use porn watching as a surface characteristic, but not much more. to it’s credit, the film does get into some details about porn and how the women in them are perfect and have no flaws. it also compares porn to sex and does a really nice job explaining why sex isn’t all that it’s made out to be. there’s a lot of voice over use here, mostly in the first half, and it really drives the film and gets our attention. this could have been a book for how much the voice over is utilized, something like high fidelity, about a regular guy telling it like it is and shooting off his theories about things. the movie would have benefitted from using that model, having the character come up with top ten lists, or wild theories about things. it starts off that way, with why he likes porn better than sex, but in the second half, that same guy is nowhere to be found.
back in the first half, everything seems great for a while. this guy goes to clubs every night with his friends and ranks the girls they see on a scale from 1 to 10. the real storyline begins when he meets barbara sugarman. they connect at the club, but then she disappears, and it’s up to him to find her last name and her number. i like how the movie shows us these steps, including him checking facebook to find her profile.
the two of them go out and things are great. unlike the other girls that he has dated or taken home, this one makes him wait for sex. she’s one of the smart ones and knows how to play the game. that’s exactly why john falls hard for her, wanting something that he can’t get. she catches him watching porn one night and freaks out, but he is able to lie his way out of it, telling her that it was just a pop-up window or a stupid message his friend sent him.
while all this is happening, barbara is also really into the fluffy, romantic hollywood movie where the girl and guy get together and live happily ever after. she drags john to all of these movies and he couldn’t be less interested. this is another plot point that the trailer shows us, but that isn’t really explored as much as it should have been. why does she like these movies? does she realize how fake they are? John never has those conversations with her, and also never tells her how much he hates them.
there’s a great scene where john brings barbara over to meet his parents, and tony danza, playing john’s dad, is hilarious. but not long after that, they have the inevitable fight that sends them their separate ways, and suddenly the movie isn’t about them anymore. it’s about john and somebody else. an older woman, played by julianne moore. i get that the usual cliche is for john to still pursue barbara and wind up with her again at the end, and this movie wants to be different and unique. still, something just doesn’t quite feel right.
maybe it’s that moore is so much older, or that she has a sad story about her family, or that she and john are not having a real relationship, but seem to be just in it for the sex. either way, the second half of the movie basically drops scarlet johansen out of it, and that’s a big mistake. i felt like this movie was trying to leave us with the same kind of mentality as 500 days of summer did (also gordon levitt), only this one doesn’t quite work as well. that movie could have led to a sequel called 500 days of autumn. this one, who knows where it’s leading to or what happens going forward. don john has a lot of promise, but at the end of the day, the pieces don’t really come together the way they should, and it leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths. the movie is enjoyable up to a point, and then it just becomes strange.