The Brie Larson Project Part IV – Don Jon Syndrome

Posted: May 15, 2018 in Brie Larson Project, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Before I start talking about the movie being focused on in this post, I wanted to call attention to the post-credit scene for Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t seen it, well, what the Hell? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, yes, Nick Fury was “paging” Captain “Brie Larson” Marvel. And for anyone who thinks that maybe she’s not cut out to be a super-hero, please click here. It’s literally a 20-second video, but you’ll be impressed.

But this post isn’t about Cadownloadptain Marvel. It’s about a very different movie, in fact; the Joseph Gordon-Leavitt/Scarlet Johansson (with some great Julianne Moore on the side) vehicle Don Jon. If you are unfamiliar with this movie, it’s definitely worth your time, and probably not what you were expecting from the trailers, which made it seem like this lovely, little rom-com where a guy meets a girl and they go through the motions and end up together and happy at the end. So, if you’re looking for something a little different, here we go:

Jon (Gordon-Leavitt) is one of those Jersey guys who loves his nice car, his swank apartment, his crazy family (and who wouldn’t? His Dad is played by Tony Danza), and his hot women. His friends constantly marvel at the fact that he meets “a ten” literally every weekend. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, the pleasure that he gets from these women pales in comparison to the pleasure he gets from watching internet porn. Seriously, guy watches a lot of porn, and goes through a lot of tissues. Not sure if he’s an addict, but he’s at least bordering on being one.

He meets Barbara, (Scarjo) and is flummoxed when she plays a little hard-to-get by not sleeping with him right away. This drives him to want to be with her even more. She is from a more affluent upbringing, however, so she tries to mold him into something a little more respectable. She encourages him to take night classes to better himself. The relationship progresses and they finally sleep together, but Jon still prefers the porn (because he can “lose himself.” Also, he doesn’t have to have actual conversations with the porn actors.) Barbara catches him watching a porn video, and is livid, but he claims that it was just a joke sent to him by a friend. She tells him “no more porn,” but that only lasts until the moment he discovers that he can just watch it on his phone. There is a classic moment when he is caught watching a video on his phone by Esther, one of his classmates played by the amazing Julianne Moore. Instead of judging him like Barbara, Esther laughs and says, “Oh my God! Are you watching porn?” and it actually helps them forge a cool bond.

Barbara and Jon continue to have issues (She feels that him cleaning his own apartment is beneath him, for example.), and eventually, she breaks up with him when she checks his browser history and sees that the one video that was supposedly sent to him as a joke was not an isolated incident. Man, even his noob friends point out that he really should have deleted his history.

After the break-up, Jon begins a bit of a downward spiral, and Esther begins to lend him her wisdom. She also lends him a video that she says has a more realistic depiction of actual sex: a Danish erotic film from the 70’s that she says is “pretty hot.” That only pushes him to initiate sex with her. She then encourages him to maybe quit the porn, and even try masturbating without it. She suggests that maybe he could lose himself in a real person. This ends up being pretty life-changing, as he eventually does lose himself in Esther, after learning that she lost her husband and son in a car accident, and discovering what a strong and incredible person she is for overcoming all that, and he can have sex with her and not have to run to his computer after. So, there you go. That’s his arc. End scene.

But wait, “isn’t this a blog about Brie Larson?” you may ask. Is she even in this movie? Of course, and she has a pivotal role. She plays Jon’s sister Monica, and Brie, a future Oscar-winner, and Marvel Cinematic Universe flag-bearer has all of one line in Don Jon. But it’s still a very important role. See, Jon is very close to his family, and they all love Barbara when he first brings her home. But as the relationship progresses, Monica has some thoughts about how it’s playing out. She doesn’t reveal them at first, as while the rest of the family continually discuss the topic, she spends most of the movie like this:

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Naturally, I thought it was a bit of a waste of a good actress, and they were trying to make some kind of comment on millennials always being on their phones while life passes them by. I was foolishly missing the fact that she is clearly observing what’s going on, but clearly letting everyone figure out their own problems. When it comes up at a family meal that Barbara and Jon have broken up, and Jon’s mother goes ballistic because all she wants is grandchildren, causing his Dad to also go ballistic, Monica finally speaks amid the chaos, at first drowned out by the TV, and says:

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Monica is the only one who consoles her brother by rightly pointing out that Barbara wanted a guy who would just do whatever she wants. She also looks Jon right in the face and tells him that it’s “a good thing” they broke up. In their family dynamic, it was all about getting married and having a family, and Barbara was the right girl for that, even if Jon wasn’t sure he wanted to do all that now. I personally know many marriages that went down this way, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As fun and compelling as that scene is (and as fun as it is to watch Tony Danza play the angry old, Dad), what really worked for me was the movie’s take on porn. The IMDB parental advisory warning says

  • This move might be difficult to watch since there is such an extremely strong portrayal of desire for women in “porn” as objects for gratification without consideration of the feelings of the women however there is a corresponding portrayal of a healthy attitude about sex and women.

I have to admit that I find this mildly amusing, and even though I’m not a parent, I guess I understand the rationale there. I am picturing a very concerned stay-at-home Mom, not unlike Jon’s mother, perhaps, sitting at her keyboard typing that, feeling the need to tell the world that this movie portrays the women in porn as “objects,” as if we didn’t know. Because of course, we should all consider the feelings of women starring in the porno video in a fictitious movie. Joking aside, yes, we should not look at any women as objects, and despite this poster’s lack of correct punctuation, we should definitely applaud them for pointing out that the movie also shows us “a healthy attitude” about women and sex, which I guess was Esther’s role. I’m not sure that’s what the writers of the movie were going for exactly, but at least this person didn’t go on IMDB just to rip on the politics of Don Jon.

In reality, Jon’s porn addiction is clearly a cover-up for deeper intimacy issues, and I was pleasantly surprised that the movie didn’t portray him as some sickie simply because the dude likes his adult flicks. He’s actually a nice guy who is very religious, loves his friends and family, but is feeling such enormous pressure to get married and have kids, that he is having trouble connecting with anyone on an emotional level. That’s what he sees in the women in the videos he watches; they’re not necessarily “objects,” but they are women that he never has to connect with in real life. A lot of movies have men with these kinds of intimacy issues, but I can’t think of too many that handle it this way. Just like a lot of movies have male characters obsessed with porn, and almost all of them are portrayed as one-dimensional, horny assholes. That’s where this movie gets it right.

This is all exemplified by Esther. She doesn’t judge him for his porn-watching, his station in life, and she certainly doesn’t judge him for cleaning his own apartment. She’s like a Manic Pixie Dream-girl without the manic (and ok, without the pixie, but she’s pretty beautiful.) She does not judge him, but in fact, tries to show him a better way. And succeeds, as does the movie. Jon and Esther are then free to lose themselves in each other, and we’re freed from another boring romantic comedy.

To wrap things up here, Brie Larson was still a couple years away from an Oscar, but she was definitely starting to make waves. I’ll be back soon to recap more of her journey to the big time, but until there, watch that workout video. Seriously.

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