Don Jon is the most sneakily feminist film I’ve seen all year.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his filmmaking debut, plays Jon, a GTL type (that’s “gym, tan, laundry” for the Jersey Shore-impaired) who beds a new girl almost every night. But the only thing that truly turns him on is his Internet porn.
Night after night it’s the same thing: Meet up with his buddies, scope out the prospects (rating them on a scale from 1 to 10, natch), pick up the hottest girl (hence his titular nickname), sleep with her, and sneak out to his living room to watch porn.
While he finds the real thing somewhat mechanical and joyless, he can really “lose himself” in his porn, he explains in a voiceover, where the girls are hotter, kinkier, and, expect nothing from him.
Then one day he meets the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen (Scarlett Johansson) and she withholds sex, until he’s so hot and bothered, he’s convinced he’s in love with her. She also insists that he go to night school to make something of himself, and that’s where he meets a mysterious older woman (Julianne Moore), a pot-smoking bohemian who finds him intriguing.
Gordon-Levitt proves himself to be a confident new director—with a clever technique of cutting away from the scene just moments before you expect him to, keeping us amusingly off kilter. His Jon feels fully fleshed out—a good Catholic boy who dutifully confesses his sins every week (“Bless me, Father, I watched porn 31 times this week. . .”) and is obsessed with keeping both his apartment and his body beautiful.
Of course, in a way, Gordon-Levitt has miscast himself: His face is simply too intelligent and sensitive to pull off this macho type. But part of the fun is watching him play against type—his body is impressively sculpted and Jon has a hilarious, Tony Monero-esque strut, that gets even cockier when he’s out with Johansson’s Barbara.
Johansson is amusing, too, but her Barbara veers a bit closer to caricature. (Also, she can’t seem to get into character without chomping on gum.) Tony Danza is perfectly (and hilariously) cast as John’s deflated father and Moore is wonderful, as always, as the sad and lonely woman who takes Jon under her wing.
By the film’s end, Jon learns that the key to really great sex is love and connection, not just the mechanics. And that if he’s not having great sex, maybe it’s because he’s the one doing it wrong. You see? Feminist!