In Don Jon writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt evades the shallows of both romantic comedy and hardcore porn by moving from isolating artifice to a genuine human engagement. His opening clip of a cartoon announces the silliness, flatness and artificiality of hero Jon's (Gordon-Levitt) life. At the end he and a mature woman have started "to get lost together."
Initially Jon and his two buddies indulge adolescent rankings of the women they see and lust after and that Jon has the unfortunate luck to enjoy seriatim. But the other characters are also locked into mechanical behaviour. His father, Jon Sr (Tony Danza), shows where Jon Jr gets his anger, profanity and fear of human connection. Where Junior retreats to porn for fulfillment Dad invests his -- preferred fantasy -- life in his large-screen NFL coverage. He's too Old School for Tivo. Jon's mother (Glenne Headly) is locked into her reflex role, submissive housewife yearning to become a submissive granny. In her ultimate revolt she shuts off the macho TV.
Two women shake Jon Jr out of his reliance on porn to complete his hyper-successful but failed sex life. The first, emblematically named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), manipulates his randiness to bring him to heel. She's so perverse she wants him to give up cleaning his (and future their) flat: "Because it's not sexy, that's why!" Her submission to romantic fantasies parallels his to porn. Both kinds of movies, like the TV ads, exploit a shallow sexuality to desensitizing effect. When she finds he's still dependent on porn she dumps him.
Jon stumbles into a genuine relationship when he connects to Esther (Julianne Moore), at the night school business class Barbara compelled him to take. Older and both more vulnerable and knowing than Jon, Esther opens him up to exploring someone else, caring for her and trying to make sensitive connections where formerly he performed only ritual responses. Where Barbara's surname evokes indulgence, the Biblical Esther connotes devotion and care.
This relationship is too personal, too serious, too deep to move into conventional labelling. Esther's husband and son were recently killed in a car accident -- presumably by someone else who drives with Jon's rage and danger -- which he also now outgrows. As she brings Jon what he needs to learn he brings her the joy of life that she needs to recover. They may or may not have a future together. The film refuses us the conventional happy ending, whether the gauzy wedding of Barbara's genre or the money shot of Jon's. The point is that each has brought the other the open honest connection they need now. For more go to www.yacowar.blogspot.com.
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