After standing in front of cameras for so many years, eventually every actor thinks they can step behind the lens and do that job, too. Thus, when it was announced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would take a crack at his feature-length debut with Don Jon, a film where he starred as a porn addict who also happens to date Scarlett Johansson, my skeptical side smirked, “Of course.” Well that side should learn to shut the hell up! Don Jonis a hilariously smutty “love story” that’s as delicately refined as a boardwalk brawl down the shore. Not only has Gordon-Levitt made one of the finest romantic comedies of the last few years, he has channeled the essence that is Jersey into its most pure form without making the viewer feel dirty afterwards. This is quite the impressive feat when one considers how many shout-outs Pornhub and its various niches get in this remarkably ONLY R-rated film. The story is acutely aware of its crude simplicity. “Don” Jon is a Jersey greaser in every sense. As a man who has never met a wife-beater or bottle of gel he didn’t like, Jon breaks it down fast and early through narration about what life means to him: His body sculpted to perfection at the gym, his slick pad that’s decontaminated with the precision of Howard Hughes, a classic muscle car, his family and church, and his women and porn. Yeah, yeah, he’s called the “Don” because he gets laid every night he goes out to a club, but that is just foreplay for the real intimacy shared by him and his laptop. He even admits his dick goes hard when he hears the Apple Startup Sound (though for entirely different reasons from the attendees at Apple’s WWDC). As a one-man advertisement for Internet pornography, Don’s impossible force meets the immovable object that is Barbara (Johansson), who is most definitely objectified. Johansson, an actress that by and large has intentionally avoided the “sex symbol” label forced upon her, relents in a role that demands the showcase of a ghetto booty. There is nary a scene where Barbara isn’t wearing a dress or “skirt” that hugs her skin tighter than rigor mortis. Hey, it gets results. After a single lunch, Jon has thrown away his Situation-game to woo the Jersey Princess. She demands that before she consummates a relationship with him, he first meet her parents, has a play date with her friends, and takes a tiny-winy night school college course to set him on the path to university. That’s it? The one thing Barbara cannot get him to do, partially because she is oblivious to it, is stop him from enjoying his pornography. Even after he and Barbara are going steady, and he goes to bed with Ms. Johansson every night, he cannot resist viewing the porn on his phone while sitting in class. Clearly this is going to end well. Don Jonis a gut-bursting (among other organs) comedy that truly is a sign of the times. While Hollywood has had a slew of sex addiction films within the last 18 months alone, none has treated it so much like an everyday occurrence that should be commonplace. Not only does Jon not know that he is a porn addict, but he doesn’t even make a connection between the hypocrisy of asking his priest to absolve him for his chronic masturbation (his record when single was 10 times in a lone day) and then booting up the computer. Perhaps, it’s because Jon really is the 21st century’s average layman who’s surrounded by constant forms of addiction. Every Sunday, Jon visits his family in scenes that punctuate the film like mini-climaxes on the way to the grand crescendo. His parents, played with matchless timing by Tony Danza and Glenne Headly, are exactly the type of clichés you’d most expect and appreciate in forming the Don. All Mommy Angela wants is grandkids, but that message could never sink in to a character named after Jon Sr., a perpetually angry Italian-American archetype that never once looks away from his big screen TV’s football game during dinner. But at least if his son leans in at just the right angle, they’ll make some unintentional eye contact; it’s better than the impregnable bubble built around little sister Monica (Brie Larson) who, save for one very special moment, never shifts her vacant vision from her phone. As Gordon-Levitt and editor Lauren Zuckerman create an almost pulsating club beat rhythm to the predictable patterns in Jon’s life, the chorus’s constant hook lands the laughter in Larson’s comatose expression, turning her into a latter-day Silent Bob for the Facebook generation. Indeed, as the film progresses, Gordon-Levitt is obviously trying to say something meaningful about our totally over-stimulated cyber-culture emptiness. If Jon is glued to his keyboard, it is hardly removed from how Barbara is equally submerged into pop culture frivolity. She is as lost in the phony image purported by Hollywood rom-coms, not unlike Don Jon‘s first act, as the Don is in his world of porn. Besides providing some giggle-inducing cameos for a few of Gordon-Levitt’s most famous friends, these parallels raise an excellent point of how oversaturated our culture is in fiction, whether with chaste kisses or chafing strap-ons. Jon is eventually shown the light to his digital cave by an older generation who remembers when pornography meant paying for it in shady Times Square novelty shops like everyone else. Where has that human interaction gone? The point is ultimately not as profound or moving as the picture may insist, but it is made with genuine grace and gravitas by Julianne Moore, playing the most “normal” person in the movie.
If the flick’s attempt at pathos is hit-or-miss (the hit mostly being casting), it does little to hurt what a hilariously raunchy time the rest of Don Jonremains. For those who don’t mind their laughs to be as dirty as any Safe Search-Off Google query, Don Jonis a wild time that refuses to settle for the missionary position of toothless comedies. It raises some interesting questions about what stimulates a culture with an overabundance of stimuli, and impressively announces Gordon-Levitt’s emergence as a filmmaker. Plus, it will leave you humming “Good Vibrations.” You know you want to hit play. Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars