Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon, 2013, 35 mm, color, sound, 90 minutes. Barbara Sugarman and Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson). Photo: Daniel McFadden ©2013 Relativity Media, LLC.


SWEET BUT NEVER AS STICKY as its onanistic title character’s wadded-up Kleenex, Don Jon proves as winning as its irrepressible writer-director-lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This buoyant comedy about Internet-porn addiction, which marks the feature helming debut of the thirty-two-year-old actor, more effectively analyzes the simultaneous appetite for and detachment from sex abetted by the Web than Steve McQueen’s grim, moralistic, high-toned Shame (2011).

“Real pussy is all good, but it’s not as good as porn,” Jon Martello avers in voice-over early in the film, each vowel roughed up by his thick Jersey cadence. This buff Lothario bartender has no problem luring the hottest females he meets at various nightclubs in the 201 area code to his fastidiously kept apartment (Jon loves to Swiffer). But after his various bedmates have drifted off to postcoital sleep, Jon can’t resist opening his laptop to beat off to pixelated XXX action—an urge he can’t abstain from at any other hour, either. Not even a seemingly blissful relationship with Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, a perfect Garden State cupcake)—“the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Jon boasts to his friends and family—can cure his craving for pornhub.com.

For all of its broad humor—there are running gags about Jon’s Sunday rituals, which include tallying his sins of the flesh during confession and guido shouting matches with his father (Tony Danza) during family dinner—Gordon-Levitt’s film is one of the more astute about highlighting pop-cultural pathologies that do nothing but exacerbate already rigid, unhealthy gender roles. Jon’s porn habits may have ruined his ability to be truly sexually intimate with a woman, but Barbara’s own fixation with romantic dramedies—another type of movie promoting wildly unrealistic ideas about relationships—proves harmful as well. (She is especially enraptured by Someone Special, a film-within-a-film featuring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway that sharply sends up, down to its banal, Nicholas Sparks–esque title, the cloying genre.) “When a real man loves a woman, he’ll do anything for her,” Barbara says, indicating how deeply she’s been indoctrinated into Mars–Venus thinking—brainwashing that begins early, as a party for a little girl that the couple attends shows every single guest under ten in pink princess gowns.

Other spoofs embedded in Don Jon reveal, without ever becoming didactic, porn’s inexorable influence on other media. During Sunday supper, the Martellos watch a TV commercial with an oiled-up model doing obscene things with her lunch: “Charbroiled Cod Sandwich: More Than Just a Piece of Meat,” goes the tagline. (Considering the real-life TV spots for M&Ms, in which the anthropomorphized candies seem just seconds away from a Plato’s Retreat–like orgy, perhaps this fake ad doesn’t seem so far-fetched.) Jon eventually meets someone with whom he can realize what he had previously been able to achieve only from devouring dirty websites: the ability to “lose” himself. Don Jon’s story arc may be conventional, but it contains one of the most radical lines I’ve heard in a film this year: “I’m not thinking about marriage, and she isn’t either.”

Melissa Anderson

Don Jon opens September 27.