By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist September 26, 2013 at 7:00PM
Jon Martello is the quintessential modern-day lothario. He and his friends objectify women, rate them on a scale of one to ten and cruise clubs for chicks that they can bed and discard. Jon, in particular, is exceptionally good at wooing the ladies with his muscles, slick-backed hair and cocky charms. His life, as he tells us in voiceover, is all about his friends, the gym, his ride (a Camaro muscle car), his family, church (no, really), girls and pornography. Lots and lots of pornography. Jon is an inveterate and compulsive porn addict, so much so that it prevents him from having a substantial relationship with any female. Jon Martello, in case you missed it, is a total guido from New Jersey, complete with "Jersey Shore "accent.
Jon’s life is all about routine, as writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows us repeatedly like a comedic mantra clipped at a quick rate. Jon screams at retarded Sunday drivers behind the wheel, sweats it out at the gym, bangs all kinds of broads, goes home for family dinner every Sunday and then goes to church to confess his myriad transgressions over and over again. And, just like the bong of an iMac rebooting like a buzzer, he watches endless amounts of porn. But Jon’s life of pulling countless broads is quickly upended when he meets the ultimate “dime” (a ten), Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a princess guidette with a body built for sin, but the morals of a saint (at least by today’s standards).
What Jon believes to be an easy score is anything but. After tracking her down on Facebook he comes to the conclusion that he’s going to have to break out “the long game” if he’s going to bag this goddess. This means un-Don Juan-like characteristics like dinner, dates, movies (there’s a hilarious fake rom-com in the movie that stars Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway) and more, long before he even gets a taste. And like a spider weaving a clever web, Barbara teases and grinds Jon for weeks and weeks until he is putty in her hand. After her own longtail scheme is complete, she lets Jon score a touchdown, but by then he’s practically wrapped around her finger.
Soon, Jon’s in love, barely seeing his friends (Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke), enrolling in night classes at her behest so he can leave his bartending job, and even promising he’ll give up pornography completely once Barbara, totally disgusted, uncovers his dirty little secret. Jon even relents to the big whopper: inviting her over to meet the family, which includes his foul-mouthed football-obsessed dad, Jon Sr. (a fantastically funny Tony Danza), his doting mom (a terrifically good Glenne Headly) and his perennially texting sister (Brie Larson).
But while he seemingly has it all (his dad is smitten by his son's gorgeous new ladyfriend), Jon is essentially still dissatisfied and yearning for more. While he has the real thing, Jon finds deeper bliss and true sexual transcendence with pornography over real women. Sex is great, but porn is better. But when a classmate of his at night school, Esther (Julianne Moore), catches Jon watching porn in class, her curiosity in him begins a relationship the two of them would never have imagined and will broaden both their emotional horizons.
Vulgar, hilarious and charming, Gordon-Levitt’s treatise on pornography, male sexuality and relationships can be little pat and simplistic at times thematically, but to be fair, Jon isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed either. And regardless of some of its life-lesson platitudes in its last act—especially some show-don’t-tell follies in key moments—“Don Jon” is funny, deeply entertaining and engaging. An assured directorial debut as we’ve seen in recent years, Gordon-Levitt’s comedy is vibrant and poignant and moves like a shark with nary a dull second. Its wit and sincerity are refreshing and all of its energetic visual flair is generally in service of sharp laughs. Nathan Johnson’s ("Looper") score is particularly hysterical in any of the movie’s “magical” falling in love sequences, where harps and swooning strings break out to full effect. Shot by Thomas Kloss (1994's "Fear," Marcus Nispel's "Conan The Barbarian" of all things), JGL’s camera swerves around with PTA-like swish-pans and then loosely goes hand held for moments of raw intensity between various lovers.
Chemistry flies off the charts on all counts. Danza is balls-out funny as the stereotypical New Jersey father, the always underrated Headly charms as Gordon-Levitt’s mom and Johannson convincingly pulls off the role of the spoiled, control-heavy empress. But Moore is particularly exceptional, and her emotionally complex character is a surprise treat. Filled with heat, emotion, verve and humor, Jon’s journey to sexual fulfillment is certainly not the most obvious rom-com path to redemption we’ve seen on screen in some time. Replete with characters who love to challenge their stereotypes, “Don Jon” is a beguiling romantic comedy with a heart, soul and pulse that will pleasure you for a full 90 minutes with hardly breaking a sweat. [That sweet spot between a B and a B+]