Review: Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt, 2013)

Still from the movie Don Jon

I apologize for the brief hiatus. Sometimes life gets in the way of watching movies.

Don Jon is Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s directorial debut. He and co-star Scarlett Johansson play a version of New Jersey suburbanites that seems to at least be partially inspired by Jersey Shore (Gordon-Levitt’s Jon often reminded me of Michael Sorrentino, aka “The Situation”). At the same time, Jon and Barbara (Johansson, looking like a blonde Kim Kardashian) felt like versions of people I’ve met in real life, too. Their cocksuredness, their unquestioning conviction that one shouldn’t have to compromise or settle, their formulaic expectations of their romantic partners. Nevertheless, maybe that recognition isn’t universal. At the end of the film, my husband turned to me and asked, “But is that realistic? Are there really people like that?” What a happy “enlightened” bubble we live in.

It was fun to watch the mild-mannered Gordon-Levitt (who, in promoting this movie, called himself a feminist) play a porn-obsessed macho with an anger management problem. As such, perhaps it was inevitable that there would be so many scenes dedicated to boobs and booties. I found these fun, but those with more delicate sensibilities might be, I don’t know, turned off. Nevertheless, it felt real enough, true enough, whether you’re looking at the Jersey beach rat version or the Jordan Belfort version. The Barbara Sugarman character especially fascinated me because her stances and attitudes seemed so familiar. That is to say, the gender expectations definitely flow both ways (though one could argue that one of the directions is more pernicious than the other): “a real man does this, a real man would never,” forgetting that real men are also real people. She isn’t horrible–you could say Don Jon is more horrible, if you’re bent on making value judgments–but she is so very certain of herself.

All that is fine and good. We’ve got real people in pretty real situations (and it’s all done with an entertaining gloss), but we don’t really care about them because they’re not that sympathetic. Until. The until is where it gets more interesting but also where it’s more dangerous as a storyteller. Now Gordon-Levitt is inventing in earnest. Is the invention still believable? This is where Husband thought, “Yes, yes, I believe it,” whereas I was a bit more skeptical. The ending is a little emotionally convenient: “Let’s follow the formula of jerk finds his soul and becomes a New Man.” Sure, it’s what we as an audience want. But, maybe as a semi-masochist, I’m always a bit wary of getting what I want.

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