Usually when two movies with similar themes hit theaters, they are scheduled at least two to three months apart (see Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down, Deep Impact/Armageddon… Antz/A Bug’s Life). However, just one week after the film Thanks For Sharing hit theaters, Don Jon sauntered into theaters like it owned the place (which is quite reasonable, since many of you probably have never heard of the former… while the latter has gotten at least a modicum of publicity). If you haven’t heard of either of these films, the theme they share isn’t about destroying the earth or taking over the white house—it’s about a primal (and usually very private) urge: sex addiction.
In Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (doing a good job in front of and behind the camera in his directorial debut) plays a porn-addicted Lothario who, no matter how many women he scores in bed with, finds much more excitement in watching porn. When he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson with a spot-on jersey accent… and attitude), he wonders if his addiction is predicated on not having a serious relationship, and so decides to try something new to change himself (if that were even possible).
Gordon-Levitt certainly throws caution to the wind in representing Jon’s state of mind during his attempt to ween himself off of porn. The film is rated R and it certainly earns it, with a heavy use of vulgarity (mostly during scenes with his boys, or that which include Tony Danza as Jon’s dad, an interesting relationship to be sure) and obvious nudity (though most of that is in the porn videos themselves). Having watched him for so many years on TV, listening to Danza use so many f-bombs is certainly odd, but you quickly grow more comfortable with it over the course of the film, probably because these scenes end up being some of the best and funniest scenes in the film.
The same can be said for Julianne Moore, who pops up as a classmate of Jon’s who, in a way, inadvertently helps him explore the reasoning behind his addiction. Although her almost bipolar performance gets a bit campy at times, it’s an overall solid performance that feels genuine. Her and Jon’s budding friendship is the exact opposite of the relationship with Johansson, which, when added to Jon’s very strict routine (including attending church, a weekly confession, and reciting his penance as he works out) helps develop a solid, unique conflict in Jon’s life that drives the narrative quite well. And other than a few minor faults (a few throwaway scenes and a voice-over narration that gets a little grating) Don Jon is a respectable film that proves Gordon-Levitt is the real deal in film making.
On a more general level, Thanks For Sharing deals more with sex addiction as a whole, focusing on the support group aspect of addiction. Mark Ruffalo plays a 5-year sober sex addict (in this case meaning, he has not had any sexual activity and/or conduct outside of a meaningful, serious relationship for five years), who meets a girl (a rather stale Gwyneth Paltrow) that he not only finds attractive, but thinks he may have a future with… if he can control himself. Ruffalo plays Adam with a pure heart and genuine need to keep from falling back into his old ways, shown through several slight nuances, from the way he tenses his hands at seeing a billboard of a supermodel (or an attractive girl on the street) to the way he squirms and paces as he waits for the hotel staff to remove the television from his room. You can feel the conflict between his urge to do something and his need not to, helping the audience relate to him on a deeper level, urging them to root for him to succeed.
In turn, Adam becomes the sponsor to Josh Gad’s Neil, a lovable shlub (does Gad ever play anything but), who is fired from his job as a doctor after being caught filming up his boss’s skirt. Neil’s journey is a representation of what Adam’s might have been like when he first sought help—not wanting to do the work necessary because deep down you can’t stop it, but when that one moment happens that you truly regret, then it’s time to do something about it and really fight. Both of these stories parallel themselves effectively, and at the same time show two different sides to the same affliction.
A third story that weaves its way throughout follows Adam’s sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), a man who has seen his fair share of meetings through several different addictions. Because he’s been around the block, he knows how hard it can be and has become a sponsor to many different people, which turn out to be surrogates for the one he can’t seem to forgive… his own son. It’s an interesting storyline, to be sure, but I can’t help but think that this story seems to take away from the other two just a little too much. Once we reach the climax of all three stories, this one has all but veered off into a completely different movie, though it does still focus on why it’s so important to make amends as one of an addict’s steps to recovery.
The final act of both Don Jon and Thanks For Sharing may not be completely identical, but they certainly do share the same DNA. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se, as it’s the journey that gets you there that matters. And though Thanks For Sharing is the sweeter of the two films (and doesn’t go nearly as far with the swearing or the nudity), Don Jon feels, on a deeper level, slightly more authentic, showing that, even though help from a group of people fighting the same issues as you may be just what one person needs, sometimes it’s simply a new perspective that can help someone turn a new page.
My Grade for both: B+
Next week, new movies include Gravity and Runner, Runner. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.