Don Jon

Rating: Who wouldn’t be enticed by a movie centering on pornography and masturbation? I’m listening.

Don JonAssume you are a young New Jersey dipshit who would rather repeatedly masturbate while watching pornography rather than have great sex with an intriguing woman and you have an understanding where Don Jon is headed. Written, directed and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film has a compelling side though it was not as good as I wanted it to be.

To begin with, it helps if you have a basic understanding of the social environment of New Jersey. I do, and Mr. Gordon-Levitt nails it in every respect.

Spending most of his free time traveling between a workout facility, church and hot bars filled with pre-seduced women, Gordon-Levitt’s character, known to his friends as Don Jon for obvious reasons, is totally comfortable with his surroundings. With short, slicked hair and appropriate tattoos, his primary goal is to get laid by a different lover every week. Always seeking a “10″, he has earned his nickname.

However, the center of Don’s life is his dedication/obsession with pornography. He repeatedly watches it, joyfully masturbating several times a day sitting at home. A repeated scene in the film is his gleefully throwing a used Kleenex into a trash can by his desk, and he is an unapologetic happy camper.

Don Jon succeeds when it shines light on a part of the world that is accepted but largely ignored. Ironically, Don prefers the aftermath of climaxing watching porn to making love with a beautiful woman, as he has no obligations of any kind when it is over. You see several scenes where he is in bed with a sleeping lover, staring vacantly at the ceiling as he tries to figure out a way to get her to leave his apartment.

It is at this moment that Don senses that his life may change when he falls madly in love with Barbara, played by the stunning Scarlett Johansson. However, while he should have realized this, she is a Jersey girl to the core, demanding that he stop watching pornography so she can then demand that he stop doing other things that irritate her. Things can’t go well between the two.

The movies additional strengths are the scenes where Don meets his parents and sister at church every Sunday, following which he joins them for dinner at the family home. Every Catholic will recognize the scenes in church, and Gordon-Levitt’s weekly trip to the confessional where he candidly admits the exact number of times he has whacked off to pornography are a complete stitch.

Tony Danza steals this movie as Don’s demanding father, a proud man of Italian heritage whose principal joy in life is to watch professional football from the dining room table if he is unable to ogle Ms. Johansson when she visits. On top of that, Bree Larson is memorable even though she has only two lines in the film. Whether at dinner or in church, she is constantly texting someone on her iPhone. And she nails Ms. Johansson’s shortcomings to Don’s complete surprise.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers when the accomplished Julianne Moore appears in the role of an older woman who seduces Don. Suffering from her own personal tragedy, it doesn’t quite ring true when she is the medium that provides Don with the inspiration to embrace a more compelling life. Nothing about Ms. Moore rang true from the moment when she first appears with Mr. Gordon-Levitt.

Yet despite its shortcomings, Don Jon is a “ballsy” film that will hold your attention. After all, what if whacking off in front of a computer screen is the ultimate secret of life?