It helps that the leads in this movie are both totally yummy.
Joseph-Gorden Levitt’s new movie “Don Jon” has more naked breasts, mostly naked butts, and revealing outfits on skinny, attractive women than any other movie I’ve ever seen. It probably deserves a Razzie for “most naked boobies to appear in film without losing its rating.” It features a caveman-like guy who aims to score with a different chick every weekend and an uptight controlling bitch.
It’s also the most feminist movie I’ve seen in years.
Before I go any further, let me say I LOVED “Don Jon.” It is a great film. The ending is a bit open-ended, and I’m not in love with that style, but the rest of the movie is so smart I didn’t mind that my fiance and I paid $22 bucks to watch an 86-minute movie. It’s also not for everyone; in fact, I’m really surprised it got made at all. It’s not a movie you should see with any friends or family that you would be uncomfortable watching porn with, so, um, beware before you go. But I absolutely think you should see it.
The movie is about a New Jersey-ite named Jon, considered so good with the ladies his bros have given him the appellation “Don,” thus “Don Jon.” He’s a man of simple tastes: he cares about his “pad,” his family, his Roman Catholic church**, his “boys,” his “girls” (a different one every night), and… his porn. He sees nothing unusual about the inclusion of the last one, and goes into great voiceover detail about what exactly he likes about porn over “smashing” with real ladies.
**(Sidenote: There’s also potential for a really interesting theological discussion when it comes to the Catholic church and Jon’s ability to wipe his sins clean every week, to the point that he uses the number of Hail Mary’s he’s assigned as a marker for how “well” he’s done that week. But that’s for another time.)
But then he meets a ‘dime.” Barbara (Scarlet Johansson) is a perfect 10 for Jon, and when she goes home without sleeping with him, he thinks maybe he needs to change his strategy. So he tracks her down and asks her out.
What about this setup is so brilliant? Because “Don Jon” lures you in by telling you it’s about porn and sex, when really it’s about the way the media we consume makes us think about gender roles.
[Moderate spoilers below!]
See, Jon got all messed up when he started conflating porn with reality. Even though (sometimes because) he can bring home the “high numbers,” the sex isn’t great–porn is better. He doesn’t get the views he can get digitally; he doesn’t like the condom he has to wear, so he doesn’t get the “moneyshot”; and “real girls” don’t do a lot of what is advertised.
Barbara, on the other hand, has developed her views of relationships (and sex) from romantic comedies. Particularly the idea that a man really loves a woman if he “gives up everything for her.” This manifests itself as her withholding sex as a form of control over Jon, literally being a cocktease to get her way–getting him to go to night classes and introduce her to his parents. And she always wants her way; there isn’t conversation.
These basic ideas are then reinforced, subtly, throughout the movie. A magazine with tightly dressed attractive women advertising “how to please him.” Jon’s father “accidentally” touching Barbara on the lower back so he can see her rear. His mother going on and on about how she needs grandchildren. It’s everywhere.
Unsurprisingly, a relationship built on unrealistic expectations doesn’t go smoothly. It takes the devolution of his “perfect” romance with Barbara for him to see the control these media images have on his life, particularly when he realizes he is literally addicted to porn–and he can’t walk away. He can’t even try to masturbate with his eyes closed. Without those images, he’s got nothing.
Barbara is similarly hung up on media representations, maybe even more than Jon. She breaks up with him (twice!) for watching porn, viewing it as a zero-sum game (again, no conversation). She chides Jon for wanting to clean his own apartment–one of his loves!–because it’s “not sexy” and “not a thing a man should do.” She has mastered the art of the tease and manipulation, and then wonders why she sees so many of her friends’ relationships fail. She doesn’t see that she has built a world that can’t work.
Jon is moving toward enlightenment at the end of the movie. Heartbroken Julianne Moore plays a woman grieving the loss of her husband and son, and really isn’t looking for much more than a “meaningless fuck.” Jon is happy to comply, but… Moore pierces his veil of unreality. With her help, he starts to realize that he’s addicted to a fantasy.
There’s no beautiful perfect ending here, and that’s one of my few frustrations with this film. It probably would be trite if there had been. But it does force the audience to think: Where am I getting my messages about what a relationship should be? Do I believe women should control men through sex? Do I believe men are really only in it for the boobs and asses? What is the fantasy I’ve been absorbing?
Just to be clear, that’s what’s so feminist about “Don Jon”: neither Barbara or Jon have to be the way they are. It’s not because they are men or women, but because they’ve been socialized to be this way, to like these things. It’s a learned behavior, and that means it’s changeable. That’s a pretty fundamental idea: that men and women are distinctly different not because that is the natural state, but because of something learned along the way.