Share this article

print logo

“Don Jon” finds the charm of growing up in a hypersexualized world

You wouldn’t think this would be a movie charmer – a ribald romantic comedy about a callow young club stud addicted to Internet porn and hooking up with girls whose looks he and his buddies rate 8 or better. He loves his pickups, sure. But he loves his porn even more.

Add to all that the hookup to end all hookups – with the club goddess of his (and most other guys’) dreams, who is played by Scarlett Johansson.

Who, he discovers to his dismay, is a manipulative suburban princess whose ideas about those with Y chromosomes were formed by Hollywood’s ideas of romance.

Porn addict meets romance princess.

Is “Don Jon” a charmer, or another programmatic slab of Judd Apatow-style fakery?

Charmer, I say. And then some.

It’s the debut directorial/writing effort of its star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s one of the favorite young actors of some of the smartest directors around. And it’s as surprisingly sweet and likable and funny in its funky way as “Juno” was despite its decidedly unlovable subject, teenage pregnancy.

Our hero is a good Catholic boy who makes sure he’s got a lot to confess in the confessional with his neighborhood priest: all those Internet porn sessions with accompanying auto-eroticism, all those different girls who are ever after attached to numerical ratings, all those ordinary sins of a boy his age still close to his parents. (His father, bless Gordon-Levitt, is played by Tony Danza, who turns out to be perfectly made to join a romantic comedy as a middle-aged blusterer in a tight white tank top.)

The trouble is, he said, that real sex “is not as good as porn.”

But then he meets the ultimate goddess in what this life defines as womanhood: Johansson, who insists on respect and his being respectable. You know, go to night school, all that.

So he does.

So far, it’s all “Saturday Night Fever” meets “Jersey Shore.” But now things start to get complicated.

On his first day of class, he encounters a beautiful older woman crying for no reason on the stairs. She’s played by Julianne Moore.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that sexual maturity is the name of the game in this movie and, amid all the meat rack shopping and gymnastics, it’s undoubtedly around the corner.

A lot of corners, actually. All of them, though, are rather wonderfully constructed by Gordon-Levitt, who turns out to be far more interesting on his own than anything he’s ever done for anyone else (as good as much of that has been).

He discovers, at long last, things about sex that aren’t in the slightest bit pictorial – things you can’t see on a screen, that you can only feel.

Yes, this is a very crude and blunt movie about young people growing up in an absurdly oversexualized society and trying to figure out what’s what in the middle of a tidal wave of hormones and uncertain, underdone lives.

But it’s hard not to like everyone in it.

It’s secretly a very smart movie about how a young guy who was both deft and dumb with women discovers that everything he had learned was wrong.

Nicely done. As I said, a charmer in the most paradoxical ways.