With his gym-toned muscles and GM muscle car, his slicked-up hair and slick Jersey accent, Jon Martello - the subject of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hard-charging character study, Don Jon - is nothing if not sure of himself.
A bartender by trade, he lives a life of ritual and routine: the bench press, the pristine pad (he vacuums and Swiffs), the saunter up the steps to St. Anthony's where he confesses his sins, the weekly stop at the family home for dinner with Mom (Glenne Headly), Dad (Tony Danza), and Sis (Brie Larson), where they have pasta, or pizza, the TV on.
And then Jon hits the clubs, where he and his buds rate the scenery on a scale of 1 to 10. Jon has no trouble getting women (the 7's, the 8's, the 9's) to go back to his place. And after they've gone, he has sex the way he really likes it: on his laptop.
Although Jon will tell you otherwise - and does, in running voice-overs - he is addicted to porn.
"I could stop if I want," he insists.
"I could," he really insists.
Tell that to Barbara Sugarman, the blonde with the hoop earrings and the chewing gum who struts into Jon's life. If Jessica Rabbit had dropped down on North Jersey and shimmied into a tube dress, Scarlett Johansson's Barbara would be that girl - or that cartoon. If there's a problem with Gordon-Levitt's pumped-up writing/directing debut, it's that just about everybody - Jon included - gets this close to caricature.
And while Jon could have sat in on the support group from last week's quasi-comedic take on sex addiction, Thanks for Sharing, Gordon-Levitt's movie is more ambitious, more coherent, even as its protagonist is more narcissistic, and way more in denial. (Mark Ruffalo's character in Thanks for Sharing is five years "sober," self-aware and wary.)
So, Don Jon is a story about a guy who has all his ducks lined up neatly in a row - and who suddenly finds the proverbial fowl flying straight into his jet engines. Barbara could be the girl, the one his mother has always wanted him to have. But when Barbara catches Jon on his computer, the screen full of video images of conjugating porn starlets, well, she has a problem with that.
He lies. She buys it.
And remember: He could stop if he really wanted. And with Barbara, he thinks he really wants.
In Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt has created a confident, self-obsessed 21st-century dude who puts everything, and everyone, in a box. And it's going to take a major jolt for his philosophy to change.
And Barbara could be that jolt.
But wait - what is this Julianne Moore person doing on the credits? The actress with the Oscar-nominated quivering chin is Esther, a stranger who sidles into the lecture hall where Don's enrolled in night class - at Barbara's urging, to better himself - and catches Don checking out some triple-X course material on his phone. They strike up a conversation.
It takes a few more meetings to find out that Esther is a deeply wounded woman. A deeply wounded woman who could teach Jon a life-lesson or two.
Don Jon is about a man's unwitting search for intimacy, for real connection in a world where everyone is connected - by social media, by the Internet, by TV and computer and smartphone screens.
That's not exactly an original idea. But Gordon-Levitt goes at it with gusto, and style. Give the guy some props.
Don Jon *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, and Brie Larson. Distributed by Relativity Media.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters