With Don Jon (2013), Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his feature film debut as a writer/director. In it, Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon Martello, a porn-addicted Don Juan who vastly prefers pornography to sex with real live women. Even after he lands himself a genuine “10” in Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who insists he give up pornography if they’re to remain an item, Don Jon persists in watching porn, only on his phone while he drives or attends night school.
Thus begins Jon’s coming-of-age journey toward an honest understanding of intimacy. In this, Don Jon smartly explores the fallacious perceptions of sex and relationships bolstered by popular media. Specifically, Gordon-Levitt sets his sights on pornography and Hollywood romance, both of which perpetuate selfish, shallow notions of love and sex. To this end, Don Jon incorporates strategically-edited footage from actual pornography (with obvious sponsorship from PornHub) and lampoons the conventions of romance cinema in scenes produced specifically for the film—scenes featuring the likes of Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Through mirrored editing of Jon watching porn and Barbara watching romances, Don Jon insinuates that each of these is as harmful to society as the other, regardless of any stigma that might be attached to pornography alone. Here, Gordon-Levitt also proves himself a competent formalist with an eye for exciting stylistic motifs.
Additionally, the film relies structurally on Jon’s cyclical day-to-day life, and Gordon-Levitt repeats these events time and again throughout with minor changes tempering each iteration. These changes are consistently oriented by the narrative, not the visuals, which remain consistent. This allows viewers to really focus their attentions on the minutiae of the story, which in turn helps to ensure that the picture’s message about the media’s inaccurate of depictions of love are heard loud and clear. In this, Don Jon proves to be socially responsible media at its most entertaining, promoting media literacy and self-exploration even as you laugh.
Don Jon is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, and it would behoove you to go with the Blu-ray here, as it features five Blu-ray-exclusive featurettes. The most fascinating among these is “Don Jon’s Origins,” in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks us through his creative process and how he was ultimately able to get the film produced with the aid of co-star Scarlett Johannson. I should also note, as I wrap this up, that the film is graced by a terrific supporting cast including Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Angels in the Outfield co-star, Tony Danza, who is hilarious as Jon’s lecherous, foul-mouthed father.