Movie Reviews

‘Don Jon’: The humor and pain of a porn addict | 2½ stars

Updated: 2013-09-25T23:05:09Z

By LOEY LOCKERBY

Special to The Star

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is like a sex-comedy mad scientist. As the writer, director and star of “Don Jon,” he splices together elements of “Jersey Shore,” the Michael Fassbender drama “Shame” and any random Judd Apatow movie.

The result is a bit confused but shows a genuine talent at work.

Jon is a swaggering stud who likes to pick up hot women at clubs and watch Internet porn, usually on the same night. For him, physical connection is meaningless when there are so many perfect fantasies waiting for him in cyberspace.

When he meets smart, confident Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), Jon is thrown off his game — she fascinates him because she demands more than a one-night stand. She demands a lot, in fact, and Jon begins to change, much to the delight of his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly).

Although he’s in a serious relationship and trying to improve his life, Jon still can’t resist the glow of the screen (or the arousing sound the computer makes as it starts up), and that complicates things. So does his burgeoning friendship with Esther (Julianne Moore), a neurotic older woman who offers even more of a reality check than Barbara ever could.

The serious side of “Don Jon” critiques the warped ideas people have about sex and intimacy. For Jon, the two concepts are completely separate, and he’s only interested in the first one. Barbara uses both to keep Jon under control and can’t comprehend why that might be a problem.

Esther is the only character with any wisdom to offer, which is ironic. All the “normal” people think they get it, but the one who really does is the woman who cries for no reason and gives European erotica to a guy young enough to be her son. Go figure.

Despite the issues it raises, “Don Jon” is very much a comedy, one as subtle as Jon’s frequent fits of road rage. These tend to occur while he’s driving to church, which gives you an idea of how sophisticated Gordon-Levitt’s sense of humor is. The scenes between Jon and his family are literally riotous — it’s especially fun to see Danza blow up his longstanding lovable mook persona.

Gordon-Levitt never lets Jon’s egomania overwhelm his insecurity, or vice versa, and he has crackling chemisty with Johansson. Moore’s excellence is a given, even when Esther seems to exist in another, more dramatic film. Like its title character, “Don Jon” tends to overcompensate, but it’s still full of (mostly pleasant) surprises.

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