A film about a man with a porn addiction could so easily skew towards cheap, raunchy laughs and be filled with gratuitous sex scenes, all wrapped up with a cliché “happy ending.”
Fortunately for me and my high hopes at the TIFF premiere of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new feature Tuesday night, Don Jon managed to avoid all these lurking potential pitfalls to deliver a sincerely thoughtful and cleverly funny little piece of movie magic.
Without getting into major spoiler territory (because y’all are going to want to go see this movie), I can tell you that the movie is about a guy with a bit of a pornography addiction, who is so emotionally strangled, that he prefers getting off to porn alone than having sex with a woman because he can’t just lose himself in another person the way he can in porn.
The way he objectifies women and his lack of ability to really empathize and connect with other people on more than a surface level spills over or is reflected in the rest of his life.
He jokes with his friends but doesn’t share or connect on a real level. His family have dinners together but all seem totally disconnected, his father escapes into the ever-on big screen tv, his mom is cooking/drinking, and his sister is perpetually texting. He cares about a short list of things, and lives his life in a very regimented rut, with plenty of time spent in solitude, even when he’s surrounded by other people.
And dude has some severe road rage.
When he meets and falls for Scarlett Johansson’s character Barbara, he says she’s the most beautiful “thing” he’s ever seen.
I often think about the effect that the worldwide pervasive objectification of women has on women, it was interesting to see a thoughtful look at the effects it can have on men.
He’s an extreme example, I suppose, with his near-constant consumption of pornography, and the carefully compartmentalized way he lives his life. But at the same time, a lot of his personality, attitudes and issues seem all too familiar.
I loved Johansson’s character, Barbara too. Flawed as she is, she is a rather strong character who has found a way to use whatever means available to her to get what she wants. While she’s manipulative as hell, she’s far from a villain, she’s just trapped in her own fairly narrow view of the way the world works and the way her life should look. And, as Johansson pointed out, the woman’s certainly got conviction.
What I find really exciting about this film is that it’s mainstream and entertaining (laugh-out-loud hilarious, actually) and far-from-preachy enough that it might catch moviegoers out for the usual romcom (even Don Jon might be coaxed into seeing Don Jon – for the right piece of ass) and get them thinking about some of these issues.
Maybe it will make them consider what they might be missing out on if they fall into the trap of keeping closed-off to real, meaningful and honest connections with both men and women, and what a difference that could make to a life.
What a ripple effect that could have.