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'Don Jon' review: The sound of one hand clasping

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

September 26, 2013

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** (out of four)

Just as unpleasant movies can be fantastic (“Requiem for a Dream” comes to mind), entertaining movies can be mediocre. That’s the case with “Don Jon,” the writing-directing debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also stars as Jon, a buff, church-going New Joysy ladies’ man who believes none of his one-night stands can live up to porn. As each girl sleeps in his bed, he gets up, turns on his computer and enjoys what he perceives as his ultimate sexual experience.

Side note: The guy pleasures himself up to 11 times per day and 35 times per week and there’s no mention of, uh, a little rawness? Come on.

This is a good time to note that it’s a bit ridiculous to make a movie indicting a masturbator for being selfish. By definition, it’s kind of a one-person thing. Yet that’s part of the limited viewpoint of “Don Jon,” an old-fashioned view of sex and relationships in a modern world. Jon’s so oblivious that he doesn’t know about browser histories or that his beloved porn comes from non-realistic depictions of sex by actors.

Considering how many short-sighted perceptions of sex exist, and the devastatingly intimate vision of sex addiction delivered by Michael Fassbender and writer-director Steve McQueen in “Shame,” Gordon-Levitt plays it safe by making a movie about a fool brought up to speed without ever facing the consequences of addictive behavior. He takes the easy way out, “Wedding Crashers”-style, and also includes fake romantic comedies very reminiscent of “Friends with Benefits.”

The filmmaker does do an effective job of showing that Jon is his father’s (Tony Danza) son in numerous ways, and as Jon’s texting-obsessed sister Brie Larson (the brilliant star of “Short Term 12”) steals scenes without even speaking. While the other characters yammer on, you want to know what she’s thinking.

That said, the movie’s pretty easy to watch, and not just because of the onslaught of naked women. As Barbara, the “dime” Jon falls for harder than he ever has for another three-dimensional woman, Scarlett Johansson rises above the distracting Jersey accent that turns Jon into a bit of a caricature. His interactions with Esther (Julianne Moore), a woman he meets after Barbara forces him to go to night school, aren’t believable at first and later undermine the story in their resolution. Like an outdated sex columnist, Gordon-Levitt refuses to discuss monogamy vs. variety or see sexual needs and behaviors in a complex way. In “Don Jon,” porn is an all-or-nothing habit for intimacy-fearing lotharios, beloved by immature men and scoffed at by women.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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