Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Don Jon’ is totally worth it

Spending $10 to see a movie – $8.75 if you’ve still got your student ID – is a rare occurrence, especially in the era of Netflix. So what makes Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new film, worth the splurge?

{Image via}

{Image via}

First and shamelessly, JGL clearly hit the gym to prepare for this role. Tommy Solomon from 3rd Rock from the Sun did not have abs like this. Unlike most romantic comedies with a male lead – a category that Don Jon certainly flirts with, if not fully inhabits – the man-boy character in the middle of the story doesn’t grow up by accidentally getting someone pregnant a la Knocked Up or encountering a conveniently placed manic pixie dream girl like in Garden State. He does so by learning to stop objectifying women.

Jon Martello, the lead character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, cares about a certain number of things in this world: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys,his girls, and his….porn? Yep, his porn. Soon enough, it becomes apparent that there is one thing he prizes above all: the porn. His character has earned the name “Don Jon” from his friends due to his streak of bringing home a different girl every time they go out to the clubs – a feat that would no doubt be praised by some of our real-life male peers as well.

His struggle begins when he meets Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johanssen. Her character is a beautiful girl who, on paper, is everything Jon wants – but she still can’t compare to what he can find online. And for Barbara, Jon doesn’t match up to her idea of Prince Charming, like in the traditional romantic comedies she loves. In one voice over segment, Jon laments about Barbara’s obsession with movies. “Everyone knows it’s fake – but they watch it like it’s real life.”

The irony of his comment is lost on him as he doesn’t see the link between his inability to connect with Barbara on a real level and his obsession with porn. In a recent interview Gordon-Levitt explains that “they [Jon and Barbara] are sort of projecting onto each other what they think the other is supposed to be. And she is doing it to him just as bad as he is doing it to her.” Both characters struggle with the conflict inherent between reality and the expectations created by what the view on screen.

Don Jon presents us with the story of a young man transcending pornhub and, eventually, learning how to engage in adult relationships (something most of us are still working on). In doing so, Don Jon makes us question our own assumptions and wonder if mainstream media and porn are so different after all. Spoiler alert: they’re not.

In one memorable scene, a Carl’s Jr. ad is playing in the background of the Martello family’s weekly Sunday dinner. Both Jon and his dad, played by Tony Danza, are totally engrossed. In the theater, I had no idea that this was actually a real commercial for food – I mean, it ends with a on the beach. Realistic, no? It wasn’t until reading an interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt that I learned that yes, in fact, this was a real commercial – “we play [the commercial] pretty much in its entirety. … That’s a real commercial. We didn’t change it at all! I think it played on the Super Bowl, if I’m not mistaken.” If the ad didn’t show the logo for “Carls Jr.” at the end I would have had no idea that it was about the sandwich. That the FCC green lights a commercial like the one for Carl’s Jr. which played at the Superbowl when the NFL is attempting to sue the rapper MIA $1.5 million for giving the middle finger during her performance at that very same event doesn’t add up.

The clever cultural criticism at the heart of Don Jon makes for a romantic comedy that doesn’t just have a happy ending – it’s a smart one, too. You will leave this movie happy you went; and thinking about it for more than a few days after.


Don JonJGLjoseph gordon-levittMoviesreviewsscarlett johanssen
  • Share on:


  • Reply October 15, 2013


    Great article and great movie!!!

    Loved the ending…really didn’t see it cumming.

    My only issue with the movie is that one of the conclusions seems to be that watching and masturbating to porn is unhealthy, which is something that I disagree with.

    Anyway Ms. Clare, you seem to have put into words all my feelings about the movie so congrats!

  • Reply October 16, 2013

    Clare Austen-Smith

    Thanks Sherry! Good pun.