Romantic comedies. Rom coms. Whatever you want to call them, it was a punishing year spent watching good looking do the same thing over and over again—meet cute, fall in love, then fall out of love before walking off into the sunset, happily ever after.
Kathryn Heigl, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Timberlake, Kate Hudson and Chris Evans not only tested my love of movies, but my love of love in that grim year.
At the time I declared the rom com dead.
I suggested it could be resurrected if someone like Quentin Tarantino came along and completely reinvented the genre, but the chances of that happening were about as great as Kristen Bell finding herself alone as the end credits roll.
Then along came Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “Don Jon.” Tarantino must be too busy reinventing the grindhouse genre to bother with rom coms, but the former “Third Rock from the Sun” star isn’t.
Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed, stars as Jon Martello, nicknamed Don Jon because he is the godfather of meeting women in bars. He and his pals (Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke) troll nightclubs in search of “dimes”—perfect tens—but in secret Jon prefers the company of his computer. Addicted to porn sites, he spends an inordinate amount of time surfing the net, looking for the perfect video to “lose himself in.”
He can’t even give the habit up after he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful, gum snapping Jersey girl who thinks people who watch porn are sick. She encourages him to go back to school, to better himself, which he does, all the while watching porn.
The porn addiction (SPOILER ALERT) eventually drives a wedge between them, but he soon learns about true intimacy when he meets an older woman (Julianne Moore) at night school.
“Don Jon” is a rom com is disguised as a character study. Jon’s romantic dalliances are a context for his intimacy issues, but the romance comes in unexpected places, subverting the formula that makes movies like “Sweet Home Alabama” so predictable.
The comedy comes from the characters. Imagine all the guys from “Jersey Shore” rolled into one porn-obsessed lothario and you have Gordon-Levitt’s foul mouthed but spot on portrayal of Jon.
Johansson, who swallows her words in what may go down as one of the greatest Jersey accents ever to be captured on celluloid, is the movie’s McGuffin. She appears to be the girl of his dreams, but she is simply the physical embodiment of his bombshell porn dreams come to life. It’s because he doesn’t love her that he learns what love actually is.
Cudos also go to Tony Danza as Jon’s father. He’s a carbon copy of the hot headed horn dog, and living proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“Don Jon” is a stylish, crude look at romance with loads of laughs. It shows off Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s promise as a filmmaker, but more importantly it reinvents the rom com in a fun—although vulgar—way.