It's a man's World

Sex, love and porn in Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut

Jon, played with peacocky relish by writer-director-actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a swaggering stud addicted to internet porn. He loves masturbating to it (his record, 11 times in a night), because he believes spanking the monkey is better than real sex, real flesh, real women _ from which he never suffers a shortage of anyway. At night, Jon hits a club with two friends, and they dish out analysis of women's bodies in lewdly puerile language, rating them on a scale of one to 10. He never has problems taking one of these hot babes home. Thus, Don Jon. But even after a bout in bed, he gets up, tiptoes to open his laptop (ta-daa!) and helps himself to another serving of fantastic copulation streamed onto his screen. He somehow believes that those online performances are real.

Don Jon Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore. Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. At SF only.

In this raunchy, foul-mouthed and candid comedy about male narcissism, Gordon-Levitt _ perhaps best remembered as Leonardo DiCaprio's sidekick in Inception _ gives us a sure-footed directorial debut. The fate of Jon the libertine may not be so surprising _ he's going through a journey from the pit of juvenile fantasy to becoming a real man who can actually feel. And what he's waiting for is redemption in the form of an understanding female. That's a given, but how Gordon-Levitt goes about charting this passage shows that, besides acting, he can write and tease and shape a story, for Don Jon bounces around with satirical wit and roguish jokes.

The strategy is to make Jon both a caricature of male shallowness and to bring understanding to his limitation as a species. It may not be eye-opening, but he pulls this one off.

Raised in an Italian-American family with a macho dad (Tony Danza, spitting expletives) and frantic mum (Glenne Headly), Jon cares only about a few things in life.

"My pad. My ride. My friends. My church". He cares as much about his church as he does about, of course, his porn. Enter Barbara _ played by Scarlett Johansson at her foxiest _ a woman who lives the life of a Disney princess, and who harbours her own brand of fantasy about relationships. At first, itchy Jon wants nothing more than to bed her. But Barbara wants much more than that _ she's here for good, and for the kind of Titanic-like romance (minus the icy death) she's always dreamt of. As the two begin to date, and as Jon begins to see the benefit of growing up emotionally, Barbara issues a stern command _ no more porn.

There is another woman in Jon's life, a cranky loner played by Julianne Moore. But in all, the film is carried by the glib, cocksure pomposity of Gordon-Levitt, one of the most talented actors around. His Jon _ let's say he's a rooster, to avoid a rather salacious double entendre _ walks with his chin slightly lifted, his arms slightly flapping like wings and his vocabulary confined to crude jargon that objectifies women. He's not a bad person, not at all. He's actually cute, only he's deeply locked inside his own obsession, addiction and an insensitive view of the opposite sex _ and probably his own too ("every man watches porn every day", he says with conviction).

Don Jon doesn't dig deep, and that may be the right choice. This is a social comedy about men who thrive on the infantile belief of the idea of "being a man" _ not a biological study on horniness or a psychological probe into the thinking penis. And while the bottom line is probably predictable _ that it takes a woman to make a man _ Jon's rite of passage is pretty honest and hilarious.

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About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Bangkok Post columnist