Don Jon was a bit of a surprise. The trailers, and indeed the posters, make it seem like a romantic comedy, which in essence it is as it is very funny and also quite emotive, but thankfully this film has a lot more to say about relationships than most romantic comedies. It is a film predominately a study about lust and what it is that we want from a relationship and how this can take many forms.
Jon (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is introduced as a rather shallow individual, one whose main interests in life are this body, his house, his car, his family, God, the ladies and most importantly porn. Jon makes no excuses about his love for pornography; it is his one true release in life, one that nothing else can even come close to, including sexual relations with a real woman. Jon is the epitome of a chauvinistic male when it comes to females. He and his friends (played by Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) will rate women on their bodies, most importantly their breasts and ass, and he takes pride in his streak of always taking a woman home when he goes out. There is an interesting point to be made in the way the three friends approach the ratings of certain women as they don’t always agree with one another which is certainly true for people in general, every human has their own views on beauty and this even rings true in these seemingly shallow individuals. This is the first of many points in this film which seems to say to the audience “there is someone out there for everyone”, whether you find that someone or not is entirely up to your own interpretation of love, whether it be lustful, close affection or something deeper, a connection that can’t be described by just words.
At the beginning of the film Jon sees these women as objects, he is stuck in a cycle of meaningless sex and he doesn’t realise that he is unhappy with this cycle but does seem to have a goal of finding the woman who will do to him what porn does for him.
Enter Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) who is described as being a “dime” (10/10) and immediately Jon is prowling like a wolf, he is besotted by her looks and is even willing to put time in to get to know her to gain his goal of sleeping with her. The fact that he is willing to put time in with this woman is a source of great amusement for Jon’s friends and it seems that Jon feels that by finding a woman who is different to the others he usually encounters, i.e. a woman who won’t put out immediately, means that when they do eventually have sex he will find what he has been looking for.
Unfortunately for Jon, once he gets what he’s wanted from the moment he laid eyes on Barbara, it is a failure just like all the others but due to his infatuation with this woman’s looks and since he put in all this effort with her he convinces himself that he is in love with her. The question now becomes, what is love? Is it purely a physical attribute? If you are so captivated and obsessed with a woman’s beauty is that love? On the surface Barbara might be a “dime” but are looks everything? The relationship between Jon and Barbara starts like many others, they meet each other’s friends and eventually they are introduced to one another’s parents.
Jon’s parents Jon Sr. (Tony Danza) and Angela (Glenne Headly) are portrayed as simple, church-going folk. Jon Sr. is an American football fanatic and is constantly shown watching American football and shouting at the TV. Angela just wants Jon to find “the one”, settle down and have a family, so when Jon finally tells her he’s met someone who he loves she breaks down in tears of utter joy. Finishing off the family is Jon’s sister Monica (Brie Larson) who plays the prototypical ‘Silent Bob’ role of not speaking at all during the film until near the end when her one line of dialogue sums up the situation, showing that while she might always be on her phone, that doesn’t mean she isn’t paying attention to what is happening around her.
Of course to keep up with all romantic comedy clichés, eventually Barbara and Jon break up. The reason for this break up might ultimately be a different source but the differences in the two characters are summed up perfectly by one scene when they are in a shop. Jon wants to go buy some cleaning utensils and the reaction of Barbara to this exhibits what is wrong with their relationship in total clarity. This clarity, which is later put into words by Monica, shows the inexperience and immaturity that Jon has in regards to relationships. The suddenly realisation that what he thinks he wants isn’t necessarily what he actually wants is obvious to him from the point that Monica states the facts onwards and this starts a new chapter in the life of Jon. He learns from his mistakes, sees his own faults and, while he doesn’t necessarily discard all these faults immediately, the relationship he begins with Esther (Julianne Moore) opens up a whole new world for Jon in regards to sex and love.
The relationship between Jon and Esther is one which sets Don Jon apart from being your typical romantic comedy as it severs the cliché cycle of meet-fall in love-break up-get back together-live happily ever after which most other romantic comedies cling to. This film shows that love means different things to different people, we don’t all have to cling to the fantasy of falling madly in love with someone and living happily ever after as these are dreams and it is not what happens in reality. Real life is not a romantic comedy and never will be, people (much like Barbara in this film) seem to hold on to the idea that this will happen to them, they will meet “the one” and be together in total bliss forever but the reality is this will not happen and if you adhere to this rather dated idea then you might miss out on making yourself happy. The relationship between Jon and Esther teaches Jon a lot and is a blossoming which is wonderful to behold. Their relationship shows the viewer that love as a concept has many different definitions, just do what makes you happy, don’t stay with someone if you are unhappy, search for someone who understands you, don’t stay with someone if you can’t relate to one another, don’t stay with someone out of pure convenience, find someone you can talk to about anything, someone who is willing to be in a relationship that gives as much as he/she gets, it is not always about looks and beauty or some physical attraction, it is about a connection, one that you can’t describe accurately in words as words don’t seem to hold the power that a feeling or an emotion does, because ultimately, if you can figure out what you truly want out of this concept called love, you will be a far happier person. These are the ideas which Don Jon does an awfully good job of portraying and does so in a manner which is totally relatable to a lot of people and might even give some people reason to think about their own relationships and how happy they are.
While the acting in the film as a whole is top notch, special mention should be made of Joseph Gordon-Levitt who not only starred in this film (and does a great job portraying the character) but he also wrote and directed it. Levitt does a fabulous job, one which is brimming with confidence in regards to direction and most importantly has something intelligent to say in the story. And while yes jokes could be made that in his debut he chose to make a film about porn and sex and chose to star in it alongside Scarlett Johansson as an excuse to make out with her as much as possible, it cannot be denied that Levitt does a stellar job with this film and it is definitely worth going out of your way to see as it shows a maturity which very few debut film-makers exhibit.