Rare to see a novice writer-director hit the jackpot in his first effort, particularly with a comic plot that hinges on online porn and masturbation. That’s just what actor Joseph Gordon-Leavitt has pulled off in this charming gem about a randy twenty-something gradually learning the difference between scoring and caring. Don Martello (Gordon-Leavitt) is a New Jersey greaser who loves his boys, his pad, his ride, his family, and his porn, which he can’t do without. Though he beds at least a woman a weekend, Jon just doesn’t get the same thrill from real hotties as he does from video moaning and his hardworking hand. Not only do real women fail to live up to Youporn, but they also make him wear a condom since, “unlike porn, pussy can kill you…”
If all this sounds vulgar, think again. Jon’s just a teen in man’s clothing. He’s hectored by his foul-mouthed Irish-Catholic father (Tony Danza) and annoyed by his cloying mother (Brie Larson), both of who treat him as if he were 13. Jon’s daily porn ways — the only ones he’s ever known (and important point in the Internet coming of age) — are the norm until he spies drop-dead gorgeous Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a gum-chewing Jewish American Princess who makes him swoon, reels him in, and starts ordering him around. She wants a six-digit mate, which Jon will never be. Though he capitulates to higher education (a night school course), the porn continues — until high-maintenance Barbara digs into his browser. Good-bye Barbara. Enter Esther (Julianne Moore), an older, Annie Hall-styled night school student. She’s troubled, witty, and womanly, ingredients he’s never known.
“Don Jon” is a literally cocky take on the male obsession with sexual fantasy that smartly veers toward the complications of compassion. Jon’s Jersey family hysterics, his lust for self-involved girlie girl Barbara, and his preening to favorite bros are seamlessly presented. God, and confession, is in the (precious) details; masturbating Jon neatly makes his bed daily.
Jon is a sexy beast who’s also an intimacy virgin — which Esther changes. “It’s a two-way thing,” he says of her, “and I fucking love it.” He also clearly loved writing and making this film, just as everyone involved — the campy Johansson and the goofy Moore in the forefront — give it timeless charm.