By Chaz Lipp

The trailer for Don Jon, the bawdy new rom-com from writer-director-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, crackled with energy and promised a funny, honest, raw-nerve comedy about relationships and, well, porn. Turns out the film, while intermittently entertaining, can’t quite sustain the trailer’s visual panache for 90 minutes. Not only is it not quite as funny as expected, the whole porn-addiction angle is actually peripheral to the story. It’s certainly an attention-getter, but the heart of the film lies elsewhere.

Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a good-natured but ultimately self-centered lady killer, intent on picking up a different babe every night while out clubbing with his buddies. They argue nonstop, ranking each eligible woman on a scale of one to ten (the elusive perfect ten being a “dime”). Jon’s not really interested in a long-term relationship with anyone. His real long-term “relationship” is with the fantasies he loses himself in while spending inordinate amounts of time on websites like PornHub (a site that undoubtedly forked over handsome sum for such a mainstream, large-scale advertisement).

Every Sunday, devout Catholic Jon confesses the exact number of times he had intercourse (and with how many different women) and the number of times he pleasured himself. His penance is more or less the same each week: ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers, give or take. He recites the prayers quietly while pumping iron at the gym. His weekly meals at his parents’ house are shouting matches between he and his father (Tony Danza, in fine comic form). His mother (Glenne Headly) pleads with him to settle down with the right girl, while his smart phone-addicted sister (Brie Larson, nearly silent as sort of female Silent Bob) observes the chaos.

Everything changes when Jon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a dime he’s willing to give up his nightly prowl for. Of course, not quite everything changes, as his porn addiction continues unabated. When the somewhat prudish Barbara catches him one night, she’s mortified beyond belief. Porn isn’t the only aspect of Jon’s life she wants to change; she more or less forces him into night school and vows to break him of his fastidious housekeeping habits. The real change in Jon’s life occurs when he begins an awkward relationship with classmate Esther (Julianne Moore). Twenty years his senior, and apparently emotionally unstable, Esther nonetheless captures Jon’s interest with her frankness and empathetic qualities.

Don Jon isn’t quite the lighthearted romp it was sold as. Gordon-Levitt scores points by aiming for something a little deeper than the story of a guy who masturbates too much. His film is really about an immature 30ish guy discovering there is more to relationships than empty sex. Julianne Moore steals the film as the most complex character, but Esther doesn’t become a focal point until quite late. Still, she and Gordon-Levitt exhibit an unusual chemistry, sharing some tender, thoughtful moments that make one wish there had been more time spent developing their relationship and less time, well, jerking off.

(Photos: Relativity Media)
Chaz Lipp

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