Film / Film Reviews / New Releases

Reinforcing the Norm: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a very busy man: he is an accomplished actor and runs the production company hitREcord. A majority of the female population would also argue his being attractive as a full-time job. Now Gordon-Levitt as added the jobs of writer and director in his romantic comedy Don Jon. The film follows Jon, (Gordon-Levitt), a lothario who thrives on the routine of his family, church, and porn addiction. This routine is shaken when he sets himself on the hunt for the provocative Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson).

The film is a strong first attempt by Gordon-Levitt, providing some insight in the nature of how institutions shape our ideas of gender roles. Yet by sacrificing analytical depth for past pacing, the film is problematic and therefore fails to take the full plunge of becoming a progressive film.

After such a promising notion, Gordon-Levitt’s analysis crashes into the ground. By the end, the movie reinforces the very notions Gordon-Levitt seeks to deconstruct. The character of Barbara manifests these problematic themes. Her character incorporates elements of the Madonna and the whore binary in an attempt to create complexity.



However, she quickly falls into the stereotype of high maintenance businesswoman, seducing Jon into an ill-matched lifestyle. Then there is Esther, played by Julienne Moore, who serves as corrective to Barbara. Her unconventional attractiveness and demand for the mutual gaze once again provides some promise, but she is then locked into the maternal archetype. When Jon and Esther—biblical name—finally have sex, light shines down on Esther, giving her a savior quality. Such scenes make this movie uncomfortable to watch. Audiences can sense the rush of analysis as Gordon-Levitt tries to tie up the movie into a nice little bow. In short, he sacrificed analysis for pacing.

I doubt it was the right sacrifice.

Don Jon is a good film for the sake of entertainment and lighthearted comedy. Sadly, the beauty of this film is only skin deep.


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