Joseph Gordon-Levitt All Grown Up

Catherine Ellsberg ’16
Assistant Arts Editor

Don Jon doesn’t just open onto the movie screen – it explodes. The bursts of sound and saturated color are enough to give you motion sickness, and this isn’t even taking into account the fast-moving images of women’s bodies: stick-thin, tanned and wildly distorted. It’s everything you hate about MTV, Entertainment Weekly and other tabloids times one hundred. Next, you hear a deep, gravelly voice – characteristically Jersey-inflected – chiming in that just the sound of his computer starting “makes [him] hard.” Why? The laptop holds the promise – soon to come to dizzying, orgiastic fruition – of Internet pornography.

Before you can figure out who’s behind the disembodied voice, the camera cuts to a brawny, beefed-up guy in a wife-beater, lasciviously tuned into the computer screen. Then you ask yourself: is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt?! It is indeed.

Now, I did know going into the theater that this was Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, but the surprise was great enough that I think I’m still suffering from shock. Gone are the days of lanky, geeky, 500 Days of Summer bliss; instead, welcome an entirely new Romeo, one that bears a startling resemblance to Pauly D of Jersey Shore. All this being said, though, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made a film that is at once startlingly intelligent and witty, if not also more than a little disturbing.

We soon learn that the man in the opening scene is Jon Martello, a guy for whom there are only a few really important things in life: “My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” Indeed, certain motifs repeat over and over in the film. There are frequent shots of Jon going to church, confessing the number of times he’s had “sex out of wedlock,” of him eating spaghetti with his family (which includes a funny Tony Danza and a caustic Brie Larson), and of him going to clubs with his two best friends (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke). It’s at these clubs that the three pals ogle women, arguing whether a girl’s “a dime” (a perfect ten) or just a mere eight.

Amid this stimulating intellectual debate enters one such “dime” one night at the club: cue Scarlett Johansson in all her va-va-voom glory. As Barbara Sugarman, Johansson is nearly unrecognizable; though still blonde and beautiful, she swaggers into the film with a thick, New Jersey huskiness, chomping on gum during almost every scene (including when she’s eating dinner). It’s in Barbara that Jon sees his newest conquest.

The most hilarious parts of the film – and really, there are quite a few – are when the new couple simply tries to be “couple-y.” Accompanying Barbara to the movies –   she predictably chooses a sappy, grand romance – Jon attempts to disguise his discomfort during particular moments of gushiness. Later, he brings her to his family’s house for dinner, showing her off as his bronze trophy. Johansson is perfect here as a woman who, though seemingly ossified into the male ideal, actually has her own agenda.

This agenda to find the perfect catch, marry him, have a load of kids does not fit in with Jon’s main preoccupation: his internet porn. Here lies the driving element of the film (Jon masturbates several times a day, and admits repeatedly that he prefers porn to real sex), and, though occasionally amusing, will probably be considered revolting by most viewers.

With Jon’s obsession with pornography, Gordon-Levitt finds some interesting angles; often quite subtly, he hones in on both the overt and implicit cultural sexualization of women. Supposedly benign moments – little girls playing dress-up and putting on make-up, or an ad for a model eating a burger – begin to take on more nefarious meaning as the film progresses. He also draws some surprising connections between the idealized fantasy of porn and Barbara’s consumption of romantic chick-flicks, which always end in glib matrimony.

However, Gordon-Levitt doesn’t always carry the thought through, and there’s more that could be done. Other elements of the plot are just a notch above plausibility: most prominently, Julianne Moore plays (in typical Moore fashion) a kind of grown wild-child named Esther who takes an interest in Jon. She’s not only unperturbed by Jon’s porn addiction, but even finds it somewhat entertaining. I found this part of the film a little offensive; by having Moore’s character accept Jon’s obsession, it shifted the responsibility and burden onto the women in his life, as if all Jon really needed was a cool, understanding woman (versus the comparatively unenlightened Barbara) to break him out of this spell.

But Joseph Gordon-Levitt can be forgiven: overall, he has made a film not easily pinned down – one that deepens with each scene, and one that will make you think.

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