The science may still be out on whether sex addiction is a real issue or simply one symptom masking a deeper psychological problem, but there doesn't appear to be any shortage of filmmakers using it as a fruitful subject matter, particularly in the last ten years.
Caveh Zahedi confesses to the camera of his physical urges as the reason for his life's failures in the charming but sadly underrated comedy 'I Am a Sex Addict.' Shortly after, Sam Rockwell delivers an amazing performance in the stilted and stale adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's 'Choke.' Michael Fassbender suffers his loneliness in Steve McQueen's edgy but frankly overrated 'Shame.' And most recently, as within the last year, an ensemble cast tried to find love while battling their sexual demons in 'Thanks for Sharing,' and Lars von Trier explores one woman's detailed journey into perversion in the upcoming two-part 'Nymphomaniac.'
With the topic steadily growing in mainstream pop-culture — I'm almost certain we'll see more of it in the future — the real challenge for any filmmaker is in keeping the subject as fresh and original as possible. Making his feature-length debut as writer and director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does precisely that in the delightfully winsome and captivating rom-com drama 'Don Jon.' The word addiction is tossed around quite a bit, and even brought up somewhat as a probable issue, but it's never fully addressed as a serious clinical dependency. For Jon (Gordon-Levitt doing an equally remarkable job in front of the camera), his love of pornography is simply a mask for a deeper concern he personally needs to discover.
And therein lies the beauty of this indie charmer. Jon has a short list of things he cares about and lives his life in a strict routine that's only rivaled by his dedication to working his body while reciting prayers. He has no complaints and would most likely assert his satisfaction with absolute confidence. His so-called porno addiction is ultimately nothing more than another facet to a larger personality. But when Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) comes into his life, a woman he eyes from across a nightclub and which his friends dub a "dime" (as in a perfect "10"), everything he was so confident and certain of is turned upside down. Completely smitten by a woman his parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly making a hilarious pair) also adore, Jon does what many guys do — slowly change into the man she wants him to be.
At first glance, the remainder of the story suggests that it will be on the travails of their relationship, especially Jon's exhaustive efforts to keep his compulsion hidden from Barbara's judgmental eyes, but Gordon-Levitt smartly digs deeper with some of the most amusingly creative ways. Their little love affair is not a bed of roses and can be perfectly summed up in a single scene where the pair argues over Swiffer pads in the middle of the store. While hysterical and brilliantly well-acted — Gordon-Levitt and Johansson have an indescribable chemistry that's in a world of its own — it ingeniously exposes what's at stake for Jon as well as the plot.
Putting Barbara's sexist and snobbish remarks aside, the real question is where does she comes up with the idea that a man cleaning house is wrong, one of the things on his short list. The answer to that is also partly the film's point: how is Jon's love of porn any more of an addiction than anything else? For example, Brie Larson as Jon's younger sister never speaks a word — except for one side-splitting line of incredible insight — and is never seen without gawking at her cell phone, even during church service. But more importantly, what of Barbara's obsession with romance movies, which have convinced her a man's love is in doing a woman's every bidding. Comparatively, both compulsively find more satisfaction in the fantasy and fiction, but when it comes to the ceaseless battle of the sexes, Jon is immediately guilty of committing the greater sin.
Of course, our diligent protagonist is mostly blind to all this until Julianne Moore shows up as the unexpected catalyst. Meeting her during a college night class of all places, Moore's Esther is an easy-going but troubled woman who finally opens Jon's eyes with her years of experience. And Gordon-Levitt does splendidly in bringing this to spectacular visual fruition, handling the narrative and character interactions with the patience of a seasoned pro. Vivid, energetic and tirelessly spirited, the film continuously surprises with its display of genre convention balanced with a great deal of pizzazz and originality. The big climax is not quite the money shot that'll leave you feeling satisfied, but 'Don Jon' has the charm and magnetism that makes the ride there enjoyable and exciting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Don Jon' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region A locked, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 copy inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase with glossy slipcover. After skipping several previews, viewers are taken to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
'Don Jon' debuts on Blu-ray with a gorgeously beautiful and highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's consistent and amazes on several occasions. Shot on traditional 35mm celluloid, the freshly-minted transfer exposes the smallest and definitely negligible blemish and pore in the faces of the entire cast. The tiniest object in the background is distinct and crystal clear while every thread and hair is resolute and sharply defined. Contrast is brilliant bold and vibrant, yet comfortable, allowing for excellent resolution and visibility into the far distance. Blacks are spot-on and accurate with deep, penetrating shadows, providing the video with an appreciable cinematic quality and incredible dimensionality. Primaries are richly saturated and vivid without feeling exaggerated, and secondary hues are animated while facial complexions are healthy and lifelike.
The only noteworthy issue keeping the 2.40:1 image from a perfect score is an intimate scene between Jon and Esther inside her Jeep. Other than that, this high-def presentation is stunning.
Even more impressive is a shockingly immersive and electrifying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that surprises listeners right from the get-go.
Crystalline vocals are very well-prioritized in the center, allowing viewers to take in the unique accents which make the characters so incredibly colorful. But beyond that, the design explodes into a wall of sound with phenomenal balance and separation in the soundstage, delivering the minutest noise in the background with convincing detail and clarity. Dynamic range is the real showstopper, delivering every note in the music and every sound, whether indoors, outdoors or in a loud club, with intelligible precision. Although it doesn't dig very deep, the low-end still packs a serious wallop with a commanding response and oomph to every song played and in the many fancy edit cuts. Rear activity is equally exhilarating, as traffic noise, the chirping of birds, echoes and best of all, the music fills the entire room with adrenaline-charged transparency and lifelike directionality.
In the end, this lossless mix for a rom-com drama exceeds all expectations and manages to deliver more, making it demo-worthy.
The only featurettes shared with the DVD release is a small collection of internet shorts compiled by Gordon-Levitt.
Making his feature-length debut as writer and director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt astonishes and delights with 'Don Jon.' Playing opposite co-stars Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, his performance alone is a fascinating watch, but his work behind the camera is also a marvel. The Blu-ray arrives with superb picture and a shockingly-good, reference-quality audio presentation. Supplements are a bit on the light side but good nonetheless, making the overall package recommended.