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Objectification in Porn and Rom Coms: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Explains 'Don Jon's Addiction' at Sundance Q&A

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire January 20, 2013 at 6:38PM

The film could have been a crass portrayal of misogynistic, self-involved behavior, but instead it impressed the audience with a thoughtful examination that shows compassion for most of its hilarious characters.
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Don Jon's Addiction Scarlett Johansson Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's feature-film directing debut "Don Jon's Addiction" premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival. It tells the story of a New Jersey bro (Gordon-Levitt) with an addiction to pornography who places value in just a few things: his car, his apartment, his muscled body, his ability to sleep with pretty ladies (chief among them one played by Scarlett Johansson) and his Catholicism.

The film could have been a crass portrayal of misogynistic, self-involved behavior, but instead it impressed the audience with a thoughtful examination that shows compassion for most of its hilarious characters.

After the screening, Gordon-Levitt charmed the audience further with answers to questions about making the film. Here are the best of his comments:

On the virtues of directing yourself...

Having been writing this film for years, that's way more time than I get to prepare for any acting role, so it was pretty easy when it came to do it. What I like to do when I'm acting is ask a ton of questions of the director so I know what to do: what they're gonna do with the editing, with the music. I just like to know all that stuff. My favorite directors are really open to telling me all these things. But when I'm actually doing it, I really know everything. That only helps me.

On making all the pornography in the film serve the narrative:

It actually feels like you're seeing more than you are. We spent a lot of time choosing what clips we'd show of the pornography. You're not actually seeing any more than you would in a rated-R movie. We'll see. I'm glad it didn't alienate you. When we were in the editing process and we hadn't done all that careful selection and cropping, we just put some temporary porn clips in the middle of the movie. It was hard to watch, it would take you out. You're not used to seeing penises and vaginas in a mainstream movie, so we decided to take out all the penises and vaginas.

On making a film that laughs at porn and romantic movies:

There are so many romance movies, and this one's different. I wanted to tell a story about love. In my observation, what's always getting in the way of love is people objectifying each other -- boys do it to girls and girls do it to boys. I decided I wanted a guy that watches a lot of porn, and a girl that watches a lot of romantic comedies. We learn about relationships from our friends and family, our churches, and the media we consume... Neither one of these media have our best interests at their hearts... I find all of that hilarious, so I thought that would make a good romantic comedy.

On the film's perspective on relationships:

A blurry shot from the balcony of Park City's Eccles Theater, where Sundance programmer David Courier guides the Q&A with Gordon-Levitt.
A blurry shot from the balcony of Park City's Eccles Theater, where Sundance programmer David Courier guides the Q&A with Gordon-Levitt.

I am fascinated with how people connect with each other and/or how they fail to do so or how they objectify each other. I do sometimes feel that I'm being objectified. In our culture, actors on film and TV are objectified in a weird way. Also, I know it's not unique to that. A lot of my friends who have nothing to do with show business feel the same way -- boys and girls.

On his feminist upbringing:

My mom brought me up to be a feminist. She was active in the movement in the 60s and 70s. The Hollywood movie industry has come a long way since its past. It certainly has a bad history of sexism, but it ain't all the way yet. It's important to acknowledge that there's a lot of patriarchy and sexism in mainstream movies. And I did want to tackle that. I wanted to make a mainstream movie that looks at some of the habits that our culture is in.

Responding to a question about the film's sex scenes:

Anybody here see "Mysterious Skin?" After that, anything's easy. Any kind of sexuality, as long as it's telling the story, it's just like any other scene.

On coming to his "Jersey Shore"-like character:

I was coming up with this character of the guy who learned about love and sex from porn. If he just watches a lot of porn because he can't find a girl to be with, that doesn't get to the point. But if he was a ladies' man, that would get to that point. I started thinking about archetypical ladies' men -- and Don Juan. I started thinking about today's Don Juan. And I thought about that guy [does Jersey Italian accent:] with the gym body

On working with -- and directing -- the lovable Tony Danza:

Tony and I worked on "Angels in the Outfield" together twenty years ago. I have super fun memories of us from then. We were rollerblading around the Oakland Coliseum. It was the 90s. People rollerbladed. He's a brilliant guy, and so adorable. You just can't help but love him. I really liked the idea of casting him as a mean dad. He would do a take, and I would say, "No, man, I still love you."

This article is related to: Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sundance Film Festival







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