Joseph Gordon-Levitt might possibly regard "Don Jon" as his Orson Welles achievement — after all, he wrote, directed, and stars in the movie, a Hollywood trifecta. The picture may perhaps rank somewhat below "Citizen Kane" in quality, but we all know that standards everywhere have declined. Rather than an American epic, it begins as an ordinary contemporary guy flick, but later becomes something quite different.
In a voiceover accompanying a montage of the items, the actor tells the audience his major interests in life — his car, his apartment, his body, his family, his buddies, his church, and pornography. The movie sticks faithfully to that list, showing numerous shots and scenes of the protagonist, Jon, driving, cleaning his place, working out, dining with his Italian family, going to Mass on Sundays, and most important, watching pornography. Although a terrific success with women — his victorious forays in nightclubs earn him the sobriquet of the title — Jon describes, in most graphic terms, exactly why he needs the videos he watches on his computer, even directly after sex with one of his conquests.
Jon confesses his sins weekly, enumerating how many times he masturbated since his last confession, and of course continuing the practice. Despite the movie's extremely foul language and its outrageous subject, it manages quite a few laughs, most of them generated not by his addiction but by the weekly family dinners, where his father (Tony Danza) shouts and swears and his mother (Glenne Headly) constantly nags him about finding a girl and settling down.
When to the amazement of his buddies, Jon actually falls in love with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) a flashy, pneumatic blonde, his life changes. When she discovers him enjoying his pornography after they make love, he promises to abandon his practice, enroll in a night course, and become a better person. In the class, naturally, he breaks his promise and watches porn on his phone, capturing the attention of an older classmate, Esther (Julianne Moore), who explains the meaning of his addiction.
Although Jon's problem, which he does not regard as a problem, surely exists, his version of it seems entirely preposterous; surely pornography acts as a substitute for sex rather than something better than actual sex. The fact of his addiction nicely defines his utter narcissism but never suggests any particular reasons for it — when a healthy young man finds masturbation more satisfying than intercourse, something seems weirdly wrong, which even Esther never stresses in her analysis.
With the entrance of Esther, "Don Jon" changes from a guy flick to something very like a chick flick, presumably the intention of the writer-director-star; the transformation hardly convinces, however, even when the cinematography moves from bright and hard-edged to soft and fuzzy and Jon's narration moves from obscenities to emotional statements. The change strikes a false and sentimental note in the picture's silly, raunchy tone, as unreal as most of the rest of the work.
Although Jon drives a flashy muscle car, lives in a roomy, attractive apartment, spends most of his nights in clubs on search-and-destroy missions with his buddies, we never see him making the money to support his happy hedonism. He claims to earn his living as a bartender, a job the movie never shows at a place we never see, which somehow allows him to enjoy the rich activity of his night life.
One of the several distasteful notes in "Don Jon," the presentation of an Italian American working-class family, here in New Jersey, echoes the familiar Hollywood stereotypes, following the exaggerations of gangster comedies and films like "Lovers and Other Strangers," and "Saturday Night Fever." The movie might entertain fans of the obnoxious television "reality" show, "Jersey Shore," which incidentally never inspired the protests that followed the popularity of "The Sopranos." Tony Danza provides most of the funny lines, most of which grow out of his simple, bad-tempered obscenities.
Given its subject, its language, its graphic descriptions, the dozens of sex scenes both on Jon's computer and in his bedroom, "Don Jon" richly deserves its R rating and actually qualifies as a kind of pornography itself. Its view of porn, oddly, amounts to its own kind of sentimentality, an odd thing in a purported guy flick.