The elephant in the room of almost any relationship in the age of Web 2.0 is, undoubtedly, Internet porn. Guys watch it, and their women either know or suspect they do, but nobody really wants to talk about it because, yo, it’s nasty!
“Don Jon,” a bawdy rom-com by actor-turned-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception,” “50/50″), lays it all out on the table. We meet beefy New Jersey dude Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), a guy who wouldn’t seem out of place amid the cast of “Jersey Shore”; he’s into working out, going to church and picking up ladies, who he and his bros hit on at clubs like heat-seeking missiles. But most of all, he’s into Net porn.
Even when he lands a “dime” — as his friends refer to women they rank as a perfect 10 — he’ll crawl out from under her sleepy embrace, slip into the next room, and get hard when he hears the Mac start-up chime. “Real pussy is good,” he explains, “but I’m sorry, it’s not as good as porn.” Even when he starts to get serious with Barbara, a Jersey Girl so fine they had to cast Scarlett Johansson to play her, he still can’t resist the siren song of “Lesbian Cheerleader” and “Amateur MILF Threesome” videos. The difference this time is that Barbara catches him. On the verge of relationship meltdown, he promises her he’ll never do it again.
But what’s the harm? He moves to his iPhone and more surreptitious viewing habits; I’ll let you guess how that works out for him. Meanwhile, Jon is going to night school — at the insistence of the increasingly controlling Barbara — and there he meets the slightly flaky Esther (Julianne Moore), an older woman who he begins to think might be hitting on him. As things with Barbara come to a head, he starts to wonder about his porn habit; “It’s not that I can’t stop,” he explains to Esther. “It’s like, why should I?” The last reel finds a nice answer to that question.
As a portrait of our times, where virtual pleasures of all sorts increasingly usurp our connection with the real, “Don Jon” — along with Spike Jonez’ upcoming “Her” — is a welcome cautionary tale. That doesn’t mean it gets everything right: Its womanizing protagonist laments how real-world women won’t go for anything other than the missionary position and refuse to get down and dirty. For real? No cowboy? Generation Miley? Porn if anything has raised the sexual-expectations bar, and a film like “Clip” is much better at capturing this aspect from the fairer sex’s perspective, i.e., the pressure on young women today to pornify themselves, whether through sexting or other louche behavior.
“Don Jon” is mostly a comedy — with Tony Danza threatening to steal a few scenes as Jon’s explosive Italian-American dad, thundering about the dinner table in his white tank top — but it takes an interesting turn in the third act, which seeks to highlight the difference between objectifying your partner in a relationship vs. actually connecting, sexually and otherwise, with another human being. In a less smart-ass movie, this could have been sappy, but Gordon-Levitt pulls it off nicely. So to speak.
For a chance to win one of five “Don Jon” tissue boxes, visit jtimes.jp/film.