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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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The title character isn’t all that likeable, so it’s just as easy to cheer against Don Jon as it is to root for him during his journey of self-discovery.

The Freshman

Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Giving credit where it’s due, this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s writing and directing feature film debut. Gordon-Levitt has directed several short films and that’s more along the lines of what Don Jon should’ve been. Given that its his freshman feature, Don Jon is a valiant effort to do something a little different. But that ambition doesn’t make it entirely successful. There isn’t enough meat to the material for a full 90 minutes. Something shorter would’ve been more impactful.

The story revolves around the titular Don Jon — the “Don” is a Mafia honorific bestowed upon Jon by his male friends in recognition of his prowess with the ladies of New Jersey. His life is all about his body, his apartment, his friends, his family, church, porn and sex. It’s a routine, one which the movie follows to a certain comedic effect until the monotony of Don Jon’s non-monogamy runs thin.

Jon’s biggest problem is that he simply can’t get enough porn. It’s where he can lose himself since he’s so emotionally retarded in his incessant pursuit of vapid hotties who give him a ride for the night, but nothing more. Then it’s off to dinner with his grouchy dad (Tony Danza, still most famous for TV’s Taxi and Who’s the Boss? ) — wearing matching wifebeaters, no less — and then off to church to make a confession about the previous week’s activity on porn sites and in the sack.

Then repeat. And again.

Yeah. It’s hard to root for a guy like that.

The Long Game

The opening credits are interspersed with flashes of TV clips which go from an animated bit of a character going bug-eyed after spotting an attractive female to progressively stronger imagery until the credits end with pure hard-core pornography. Porn is really, really important to Don Jon and the movie features quite a dose of eyeful imagery. When he’s not sitting in front of his strategically-placed laptop, he’s in the nightclubs hitting on real women.

Constantly scoping out the dimes while his friends settle for 2’s and 3’s (as one friend dutifully points out, those ladies are very open minded and willing to experiment), Jon settles on one 10 who captures his imagination. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, The Avengers) speaks with a thick Jersey girl accent that is matched by all of her other Jersey girl sensibilities. She thinks Jon would be so sexy with a real job (he works in the service industry; he’s a bartender) and he’s most certainly not going to be allowed to do his own vacuuming when they live together. (Poor Jon. He’s borderline OCD when it comes to his penchant for keeping a clean pad.)

There’s the expected sexual tension of foreplay as Jon and Barbara tease each other before taking the plunge into the sack. Then Jon, miraculously, is in love. It doesn’t feel right. Really? In love? A player? That quickly? Well, the 90 minutes are ticking and there’s a not entirely credible ride ahead before the movie’s ultimate point is finally made.

Naturally, when Barabara catches Jon taking in a porn video online right after they have intercourse, she’s offended and makes it clear to him the porn obsession has to stop. She’s got her aversion to porn much like Jon has an aversion to weepy romantic movies. Even so, Jon takes his newly-minted dime girlfriend to a chick flick and that sequence leads to some of the movie’s best, most carefree moments. A movie-within-the-movie parody stars Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway; loads of other celebrities can be spotted on the one-sheet posters in the theatre lobby.

Special Someone

Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson)
Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson)

There’s some interesting dialogue to be had — the kind best served over a post-movie cup of java — about the complete, abject artificiality of low-grade romantic dramas starring A-list talent and the value (or lack thereof) of the more upfront, full-out, straightforward content of porn. But it’s a conflict of ideologies that gets quickly swept under Don Jon’s rug — right along with other sources of divergent views, such as the value of Cosmopolitan magazine in comparison to Maxim, for example. But this movie’s agenda is content to wave at those notions while Don Jon drives toward the movie’s message.

That message involves an older woman, Esther (Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski). Jon meets her while taking a business management class in order to better himself and to satisfy Barbara’s lifestyle demands. While going back to school Jon might pick up a thing or two about management, but he most certainly learns to appreciate that sometimes the young and hot are trumped by the aged and wise.

It’s a decent enough message, albeit not entirely original or earth shattering, but given the context of Jon’s porn addiction and a semi-simmering subplot alluding to Jon’s anger management issues (which also goes nowhere), it allows the movie to end on a relatively pleasant note.