Review: Don Jon (2013)

          Don Jon (2013)
      Dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
     Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

    In Joseph Gordon-Levitt's sex comedy Don Jon, a microscope is taken to the love lives of New Jersey's working-class "guidos"in a way that can't help but to feel a little bit condescending. Levitt plays a young, hair-gelled, muscle-bound Italian kid who has a serious porn addiction. He and his macho buddies divide and rate women out of 10, treating them summarily as a collection of body parts.  On one of his many nightclub forays, he comes across a high-maintenance "dime" by the name of Barbara (a particularly impressive collection of body parts, as we are repeatedly reminded) who baits and switches him into a relationship by withholding sex from him.

 It's clear where Gordon-Levitt has sought to level his critique - these tacky Jersey-Shore dwellers are haplessly beholden to the mass media's image of love, sex, and relationships. Their central problem, he opines, is that the poor fools have based their entire identities and expectations around the mountain of unrealistic shit they've been watching; in Jon's case, hardcore pornography, and in Barbara's case, silly romantic comedies. His treatise on the harmful effects of conflating reality with media fantasy does prove entertaining, at times - but the film ultimately falters due to messily-drawn characters.

 Barbara, we are shown, has a childhood bedroom festooned with pink and crystals, has been taught that she will find her perfect Prince Charming, and that her sexuality is a tool to be used to find and keep a man -- even if it means downright manipulation. Yet she is bothered by no more internal subjective depth than is necessary. All of the women in the film, even Julianne Moore's free-spirited widow, are static, fixed points around which Jon moves; they allow our central male character to make important self-discoveries about sex and love, with no room for their own development. This is the same central male character who charmingly remarks in the opening sequence, '....her face is an 8, but her tits are a 4', which hardly endears him to the audience, and should not make him any more inherently redeemable than his bossy female counterpart.

   As something of a rejoinder to its otherwise careless attitude, the film does make slight references to the media-saturated pressure that women are bombarded with constantly. Nonetheless, with no desire to investigate the notion further, any potential for commentary falls flat. What we are left with is an inoffensively obtuse, clumsy attempt at pithy comedy. It is amusing, shallow, and entirely mediocre.


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