Photo: Courtesy of Relativity Media / Daniel McFadden.
The characters of Don Jon, both a sense of frustration and a source of hilarity, are fairly one-dimensional. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has stepped up as both writer and director, does this intentionally, flattening everyone so we can take them as simple wants and desires. In fact, for a first-time director, he has an incredible control over the cameras lens.
Which is precisely the point: The camera controls what the audience sees. Like the pornography he so prefers, Jon (who is nicknamed "Don Jon" for his ability and prowess for bagging "dimes", or girls who are "tens"), views women in fragments and pieces. When he looks at women, he sees legs, breasts, butts, faces — but never the whole package. Yet, what makes Don Jon effective isn't that it condemns pornography, but it calls all mediated expectations into question: Advertising and Hollywood are just as guilty as "fragmenting" people and presenting them in parts as porn.
In fact, one of the most telling moments in the movie is during a dinner between Jon and his father (a Jerseyite played by Tony Danza), a dinner which is suddenly interrupted by an oiled, impossibly beautiful woman undulating for a burger commercial. The two men stop and ogle the screen, while Jon's mom whines and his sister mindlessly taps on her phone. Yes, these are one-dimensional depictions of gender stereotypes. But, that is what is interesting to JGL.
While much has been made about his "porn movie," JGL is just as judgmental towards Hollywood. Scarlett Johansson, who plays Barbara (Oh! That's like Barbie! Get it?), is just as guilty as Jon about slipping into fantasy world's involving the opposite sex — as demonstrated by her adoration for the cheesiest love movie ever (with great cameos by some Hollywood A-listers). The point is heavy-handed and obvious, but it is an interesting one: What we watch and media's various positions create unrealistic expectations of our sex lives. Nothing groundbreaking here, but where the idea does get interesting is that this movie correlates the fantasy created by Hollywood, with the fantasy created by pornography, underscored by Barbara trying to mold Jon into her ideal man. In one scene, Barbara angrily protests that, "They give awards for movies," and Jon retorts, "They give awards for porn, too," which is, well, true.
The best part of the film isn't that it condemn porn — because it doesn't. In fact, when an older and frazzled woman played by Julianne Moore stumbles onto the scene, she provides some sort of middle ground: The more mature realization that fantasy — like the ones presented by film, both adult and non-adult — can augment reality, but not replace it. In fact, her older, empowered female role is a fair halfway point who embodies "mature relationships," whereas ScarJo's Barbara is fully realized, albeit as a stereotype. (In fact, if you are a fan of Johansson, this movie will delight. Her gum-snapping, lycra-wearing, Jersey girl-attitude is a roll she plays earnestly, with a good-natured wink.)
To say this is a thoughtful indictment of gender roles in the media would be a stretch. To think that this is a searing commentary on the nature of porn would also not be fair, because porn has its semi-redeeming moment, as well. But, it is an energetic effort for the newbie director who, after years in the biz, is perfectly aware of the truth the camera can (and can't) reveal.