Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Don Jon

Get out your porn and romantic comedies, we're watching Don Jon!
Tried a little something different and added water color for the shading.
Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) only cares about a few things in life: his body, his apartment, his car, his family, his religion, his boys, his girls, and his porn. When he meets the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, Barbara (Scarlet Johansson), and she wants him to give up his porn, he'll have to make a tough decision.

There are a lot of movies where things happen – maybe good things, maybe bad things – but I just have nothing to say about them. It's torture to write a review when there's nothing I want to talk about. So-and-so movie was good, this other movie was bad. Meh. 

Don Jon is one of those great movies that I want to write about all day.

This is a movie about a guy chasing after an unattainable goal, the process of which erodes his life. He watches too much porn and seeks out the ideal sexual experience (as represented in porn) in real women. That's a real problem today. Not that we watch porn too much (though that is certainly sometimes the case), but that we indulge in expectations illustrated by fantasy and cultural entertainment that have probably never been real, and thus can never be satisfied. It's not just porn, either; there's a huge list of things that give people false expectations, almost always intentionally, so they can keep searching, keep buying, keep consuming, and keep coming back for more. Jon's false idol is porn, and his unrealizable expectation lies in all the fake sex that he thinks is real. Barbara has her own broken set of expectations, created for her by romantic films and the resulting expectation of finding her perfect man – one who will cater to her every whim. Then there are Jon's parents, who want the perfect family and say that having a family is the best thing in the world, even when their own family is dysfunctional at best and disintegrating from the inside at worst.  

Jon's friends all want to find a woman who's a perfect ten (a 'dime' if you will), too, but it doesn't exist. There is a great scene where Jon tells his friends how much he loves Barbara, about how perfect she is, and about all the dirty sex acts she lets him do to her. It's a straight lie. He knows it's a lie, but he's perpetuating it, lying even to himself that if you work hard and look good you'll one day find the perfect girl who will make you completely happy in every possible way. It's super creepy when Jon's own dad (played perfectly by Tony Danza) finally sees Barbara and goes, "Damn!" He jumps right into Jon’s idea of her as the perfect woman. Jon keeps telling everyone that Barbara is "the most beautiful thing he's ever seen," and he means it. But that's his only standard. That's the expectation he's set up for himself, and, more than likely, his father set up for him, too. 

You can see that these are not good people. You can see that Jon, his father, and Jon's friends all treat women like objects to be won, obtained, and conquered, and that they find nothing wrong with it. A lot of the girls find nothing wrong with it, either; they play into it. I wish there was more said about the problems with treating women badly, because I know it's creepy when Jon says, "I'm not doing anything," and "What am I doing?" and "Well, why did you come over, then?" as he forces a kiss on a girl. Meanwhile, there are a slew of guys out there whose whole schtick revolves around this same way of thinking, so there’s a good chance they might not see it as creepy. There's one disturbing scene when Jon Sr. talks about how he first met Jon's mother. He describes it like this: He sees her, thinking (like Jon) she’s the most beautiful girl he's seen, and he thinks to himself, "She's mine." It very effectively shows how he treats her as an object, and illuminates how okay everyone is with it. The others even think it’s cute when he says it with the eyes of a predator. It really brings to light a systemic problem with the culture, as he passes down how his views and treatment of women to his son. Sure, Jon learns something at the end, but I don't know if the audience will get it, and I wish it was just a little more blunt, just a little more over the edge. 

The way the movie is shot is gorgeous. It has a great visual style, which is especially noticeable during sexually-charged scenes, and it has a rhythm that reminds me of Edgar Wright. What's fantastic is that it starts with a rhythm, but that rhythm slowly unravels right alongside Jon's entire life. His whole way of thinking completely de-rails, and so does the way the scenes are shot. It's fantastic! And so is the acting! I mean, I am super SUPER biased when it comes to Levitt, but you would not recognize him from the uncaring assassin Looper, or the calculating detective of Brick. This is his directorial and writing debut, and he hits it out of the park, getting great performances out of all the cast, including Johansson, who pulls off the best Jersey accent, and possibly her best performance ever? I love Danza, too. And it's got a fun, sharp script and a catchy soundtrack!

Something that struck me as weird: Barbara was so uptight about him watching porn. And not even weird specialized porn, just regular porn! I mean, women watch porn, guys watch porn, couples watch porn together! Are there people who don’t know about internet porn, let alone watch it? Maybe it's just because I'm very accepting of internet-based culture and human sexuality, and I should check my porn privilege. I wish there were more penises shown in the porn he's watching, but I loved that he’d see a guy in porn and immediately get turned off. It speaks volumes about male gaze, how everything's tailored for men, and the desperate fear of anything gay – so heaven forbid there be a naked dong! Also, some homophobic slurs thrown around by Jon's friends, calling each other gay or using “the other F word,” so if that turns you off, look out for that. 

Not to spoil anything, but the ending is not a typical Hollywood ending. But then again, maybe it is. It's kind of progressive, but not entirely as progressive as I'd like. It's similar to the ending of 500 Days of Summer, actually. With the theme of the entire movie I'd have liked it if the ending didn't perpetuate the false expectations to start a family/get into a romantic relationship (which is the same ending that most of these movies have). While it kind of bucks the trend, it doesn’t buck it completely. Only a little. Or mostly.
Julianne Moor is fantastic as well!
Don Jon is a movie about addictions, seeing everything one-sided, and seeking desperately to fulfill false and/or unrealistic cultural and social expectations. It's a movie about small people living their little lives, trying to comprehend things that are far beyond their reach. It's about staring your addiction down and wondering what it's doing to you, and how it's holding back. Don Jon is a marvelous movie and I cannot stop thinking about it.

THE GOOD: Great cinematography, great acting, really interesting premise and story, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Great cast, great script.

THE BAD: Doesn't go far enough with the satire to explain what's wrong with treating women badly, some homophobic slurs. 

THE VERDICT: $$$$$ See it! It's a great fun movie with a lot of style and a great story. 

MOVIES LIKE IT: 500 Days of Summer, Casanova, Crazy Stupid Love, Pain n' Gain

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Jon's family is at the dinner table, watching TV, and a commercial for fast food comes on. It features a sexy girl in a bikini, getting undressed and making sexy poses while eating a hamburger. (Supposedly this is a real ad) And when watching it, you see what it does to Jon and his father. It washes over them. They want that girl and they want that hamburger. Then you see his sister and mother, and they are completely uninterested, even a little uncomfortable. That's a fantastic metaphor for how women are treated and how no one sees a problem with it. I would not be surprised if that is a real commercial, but it's so crazy that someone would think it’s okay! It does nothing for women, except insult them. Yet the guys would find nothing wrong with it.

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