Movie Review: Message of ‘Don Jon’ obscured by raunchiness

“Don Jon” is the raunchiest mainstream movie I’ve seen; it’s an anti-porn story so obscene that one has to ask whether the film was listening to its own message.

It’s also the first work directed by one of our hottest young actors – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wrote the script as well.

Star of four different 2012 films, JGL here plays a working-class man who insists that pornography is better than real sex; even when he brings a woman home for the night, he still heads to the Internet for porn once she goes to sleep.

Jon soon falls for a knockout played by Scarlett Johansson; she’s hooked on sappy romance movies where guys sacrifice everything for their gals, and that’s what she wants Jon to do too – including his porn.

The film doesn’t have much more plot than that – but it takes a nice turn after Jon meets an enigmatic middle-aged lady in his night class; she is played by Julianne Moore, whose work here is typically spectacular; the woman really is a national treasure.

“Don Jon’s” chief strength is its eventual assertion that for women, there is a sort of emotional pornography – one that involves controlling men through sex – and that this “getting him to do whatever I want” is just as selfish and objectifying as genuine smut.

Another virtue here is what Jon eventually learns – namely, that the escape he admittedly seeks in porn won’t really happen till he actually connects with another human being in a selfless way.

Both of these are worthy concepts; I just wish they were clothed in a film that didn’t flaunt what it claims to condemn.

In addition to numerous repulsive snippets of genuine porn, “Don Jon” is loaded with onscreen orgasms and filthy talk – 120 F-words, according to one website, along with painfully crude references to women, sex and masturbation.

I don’t mind frankness about sex, but there’s a line between frankness and bad taste; “Don Jon” crosses that line right away, and doesn’t step back till the very end. If JGL really thinks porn is so bad, why show us so much of it?

His direction is assured, though there’s too much hand-held camerawork in some of the character-driven scenes.

As for the script: I love this actor, but I didn’t care much for his character – there’s a load of crap to wade through before reaching the heart and soul that emerges near the end.

Other characters work better: Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are used to fine effect as Jon’s parents; but I was also uneasy with his handling of clergy, to whom Jon regularly confesses his sins. I can’t see many modern-day priests responding so uselessly to Jon’s final questions; I wonder if JGL has actually talked to any clergymen lately.

Judging from this film, it might not be a bad idea.