Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 April 2014

Don Jon

I have to say that I am sort of irritated by how, well, not good Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first feature is.

I don't even think I have a lot to say about this film except that it is basically Ted except for instead of an amusing (well, not that amusing) talking bear, JGL's version of the man-child who doesn't want to grow up has a laptop and some pornography to keep him company.

One thing that Ted has on Don Jon, too, is that Ted has a woman at its center who is actually correct about how to improve the man in her life. Don Jon's version of that is a shallow, idiotic rich girl who literally doesn't approve of speaking out loud about purchasing cleaning products in Target in case someone hears you. I mean this film hates its central female character.

Don Jon isn't without its merits. JGL is hard to dislike. How could anyone? He is clearly a lovely performer, and the picture is decently made – it is his first, and its a lot better than, well, other actors' first features.

And the film makes some really good points, too. Carl's Jr. ads really are pornographic, and this film calls them out on it. Romantic comedies, too, get some women off in the same way that pornographic films get some men off. It is a pleasing comparison: one that basically erases the history of oppression and misogyny to which women have been subjected through the dehumanization of pornographic imagery, but not incorrect.

Here's the deal: this is a film with the tagline There's more to life than a happy ending. A pornographic pun, to be sure. And the film promises to be irreverent, to be relatively sexy/pornographic, and then to end without a happy ending: something at the very least non-normative. But it doesn't know how to do that.

There is not more to life than a happy ending in this film. It is a film with a very earnest message that made me want to throw something. It purports to know how to have sex correctly – the true way to enjoy sex with someone (in case you weren't aware) is really to see someone else, to share something, to make love. I mean, look, I'm glad that is good for some people, and I am not saying that that's, like, a bad way to have sex or anything, but to behave as though the way that you like to have sex is somehow the correct way to do it, seems... well, I'll be generous and say: a bit short sighted.

And Don Jon is totally invested in its main character learning exactly this lesson. In fact, like other recent comedies about grown men turning into adults and leaving their childhoods behind (Knocked Up, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, Ted), Don Jon links growing up or "becoming a man" to something very specific that the film argues is "what adults do". In the case of Don Jon, "what adults do" is watch less porn than they did when they were teens/kids/whatever. And they make love with the women with whom they have sex: they don't simply engage in "one-sided" sex.

This is all fine, I suppose. I jut don't relate to this kind of thing in any way.

Maybe I need to grow up and start having sex the "right" way. Paging Dr. Freud.