There is a beautiful moment about a third of the way in to Don Jon that shows a commercial on the television that’s always on during Jon’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meals with his amazing caricature of a New Jersey Italian family. The commercial is for a fish sandwich (I want to say cod) and involves a woman who is naked except for her underwear and appears to be about to orgasm over this fish sandwich; the parallels to the crazy amounts of porn Jon watches are very thickly drawn. The commercial ends with the message: More than just a piece of meat.
This was the moment I started taking notes. Because I realized for all Don Jon is hilarious, this movie was really not fucking around.
There is a lot of porn in this movie. And a lot of sex. And a lot of porn. And yet somehow, it doesn’t end up being at all exploitative, I think because the movie is so conscious of how it uses those images. Just as when the camera takes a good look at a woman’s bottom in a night club, it’s because it’s standing in for Jon’s eyes, and you hear him and his “boys” baldly rating women with numbers. Why yes, he is treating women like objects, he does see the world this way, isn’t it a bit pathetic and empty?
I’ve seen Don Jon described as a romantic comedy. I don’t think I quite buy that, since it ignores or actively mocks the tropes of the genre, which I appreciated greatly. It’s more a comedy about false expectations, particularly as they relate to romantic and sexual relationships, selfishness, authenticity and hypocrisy. And it’s hilarious. It was even funnier than I expected to be.
“The shit I watch on here, they’re not pretending.”
“Of course they are.”
In the movie, a parallel gets drawn between romance movies and pornography multiple times, implying both are fake, unrealistic, and ultimately set up one-sided expectations. Now, I don’t entirely buy that parallel or the idea that both are equally harmful, but it’s a powerful statement. Jon whines about “real pussy” not being as good as porn, because real women won’t do the same things porn actresses do. Barbara (Scarlet Johansen) has several wonderfully cringe-inducing rants about how in a relationship, the woman should be all the man needs and he should do everything for her, and also what “real men” do or don’t do. (Jon is apparently not a real man because he takes pleasure in keeping his apartment clean.) Both of them seem addicted to their poison of choice, and constantly trying to reshape the world around them into that very processed vision, then very disappointed when their efforts fail.
It’s a movie about incredibly artificial and self-centered people.
“You’re a real winner. You respect people. You listen to people.”
And then Don Jon becomes, at its heart, a movie about people attempting to honestly connect.
So there’s a lot here, and it’s also hilarious. I definitely want to see this one again; it’s rare for me to get this thinky about a comedy. And I do not want to spoil it, because I really enjoyed the ending and felt like it sailed in to a good spot and resisted the urge to get schmaltzy.
But I will say one more thing. My favorite character in the entire movie is Jon’s little sister Monica (Brie Larson); she speaks only once, but the rest of the time she doesn’t have to. Her constant, wonderful I cannot fucking believe the bullshit soap opera that surrounds me looks just make every scene involving Jon’s family a treat.