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Review: Don Jon

It does for porn-dependence what Shame did for sex addiction by offering a surface-level look at the effects of its specific pathology on its lead male character.

 

1.5

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Don Jon
Photo: Relativity Media

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, does for porn-dependence what Shame did for sex addiction by offering a surface-level look at the effects of its specific pathology on its lead male character. But while Steve McQueen’s film made no effort to explain its upper-crust hero’s inability to stop fucking, Gordon-Levitt attempts to situate his own lead character’s porn obsession within a very specific context: a working-class Italian New Jersey home life whose patriarchal structure perpetuates the view that women are little more than objects of desire and a media environment that echoes these same ideas.

As such, the film is both blunt to the point of redundancy and unnecessarily one-note (and thus inevitably condescending) in its portrayal of a stereotypical Italian family. Beginning with a credit sequence that functions as a montage of sexy televisual images from throughout the years, presumably representing the “education” of Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), the film then goes on to introduce via raunchy, allegedly comical voiceover the predicament of its protagonist. “Don” Jon, as his friends call him, has little difficulty picking up attractive women at the club. But while he regularly indulges in this practice, no sexual experience can compare for him to the pleasures of porn, a world of pure fantasy where women do things they won’t do in real life.

Things change when he begins dating the gorgeous, elusive Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who declares Jon’s porn habit “disgusting” and forbids him from looking at any of his online skin flicks. The introduction of Barbara serves several purposes. It allows the viewer to see the other side of Catholic-boy Jon’s virgin-whore fixation, as he continually refers to her as a “beautiful thing,” an object to be worshipped. The couple’s visit to Jon’s parent’s home also hammers home the harmful effects of his family’s traditional ways of thinking. While Jon’s father, Jon Sr. (Tony Danza), leers perpetually at Barbara and is moved to wax “poetic” about the time he first met his own wife and mentally declared, in what he views misguidedly as a bit of romanticism, “That’s mine,” Jon’s mother, Angela (Glenne Headly), is simply thrilled that he’s found someone who can provide her with grandchildren.

Finally, Barbara’s role is to provide an unforgivable stereotype of the material-obsessed Joisey princess who symbolically castrates our hero, bossing him around and pushing him to get a better job than his current bartender gig, not because she cares about his well-being, but because she doesn’t want to be with someone in the “service industry.” While things don’t last long with Barbara, she’s a central enough figure in the film for her to help Gordon-Levitt undermine his own point. If she’s the representative “real-life” woman, then isn’t everything Jon thinks about women and about the superiority of porn justified?

Fortunately, both for Jon and the movie, Gordon-Levitt introduces another character, an older woman that Jon meets at a college class he’s taking. Played by a game Julianne Moore, the only person in the film who doesn’t talk as if she’s never left New Jersey in her life, Esther sets about schooling Jon in the realities of sexual behavior. As such, she’s both a refreshing presence in the movie, someone who talks and acts like an actual adult, and a character thanklessly tasked with delivering the film’s blunt message about porn. Ultimately, she teaches Jon that porn isn’t “real” sex and that the reason he’s dissatisfied in the sack is because he never takes the actual presence of his partner into account, treating her strictly as a living masturbatory aid. Hardly revelatory stuff, though it clearly is for Jon and apparently for Gordon-Levitt too. But in the end, the discovery by one New Jersey meathead about how to have good sex is no more remarkable than the non-lesson delivered to Michael Fassbender’s affluent Manhattanite, Jon’s cinematic counterpoint, about his own uncontrollable sexual habits.

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Screenwriter: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Distributor: Relativity Media Running Time: 90 min Rating: R Year: 2014 Buy: Video

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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