Don Jon - The SSL Review

So, as you know, this whole SSL review thing is about critiquing depictions and discussions of female orgasm and masturbation in our media. Unrealistic or misinformed stuff gets a low vulva rating and accurate, progressive, realistic stuff gets up to a 5 vulva rating (!)(!)(!)(!)(!). Obviously a movie can be a fantastic, top quality movie but still get the bad SSL review, and vice versa. That's the nature of this game.
So the question is, how did Don Jon, the soon to be released movie about a man addicted to porn that is written, directed and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, do?

Don Jon promotional poster - opens Sept. 27th, I think
I saw it closing night at the Indianapolis International Film Fest a few weeks ago, and you know what? It was pretty good. Now, if I were doing an SSL review about the realism of the male orgasm, then this would clearly be a 5 penis olo olo olo olo olo movie. As audience members, the movie clearly leaves us with the correct assumption that manually rubbing the penis or rubbing the penis into a vagina can cause orgasm/ejaculation in men. Not a surprise really is it? The basic elements of how to physically get a man off are so clearly insinuated or outright depicted in our media that a SSL review on it would be utterly boring and useless. Not so for women. If you take the media's clues, you'd think that rubbing into the ol' vag would give a lady an orgasm, but it just doesn't (if you want me to explain that more go HERE). We have clits, and they're for rubbing off, just like Don Jon's penis is for him to rub off while watching porn. So my point is that media gives us fake as hell instructions for getting women off. I'm not going to say that Don Jon was progressive or particularly accurate in its insinuations about female orgasm, but I will say that in spirit, it was headed in the right direction.

Now, before we get into the SSL review, let me speak on the overall movie real quick. The porn addiction aspect of this movie is an interesting catalyst, but I'd say the real heart of this movie is the story of a man maturing through his relationship with a woman. Now, there are about a bijillion movies out there where a man supposedly matures into a worthy spouse/boyfriend, inspired by the love of a woman, but they're mostly stupid and insincere depictions of maturity. This movie is way, way more thoughtful. His maturity involves learning to view women as people who are available for and worthy of a mutually respectful, honest relationship - physically and emotionally. I think the movie poignantly displays how too often men and women see the opposite sex as alien beings that one is drawn to but can never fully understand; a being one may have genuine feelings for, but that must be manipulated and lied to in order to tolerate the close living conditions. His maturity is one that many of the people around him, including his father (played by Tony Danza, ya'll!!!!!!) haven't seemed to achieve.

I love yo Mr. Micelli!
I think it's a lovely sentiment, and I think this movie executes it well. There is a real sweetness and humor to this movie that I truly enjoyed. I certainly recommend seeing it, and I think overall it's a positive contribution to media about love and sex and gender relations. However, it, like so much of media, sticks to a superficial, status quo perspective of female sexual pleasure; one in which ladygasms are wierdly invisible partly becuase they're vaguely interchangeable with general sexual pleasure; one in which straight-up intercourse seems to be all a woman needs to gain this vague pleasure(/orgasm?) as long as there is enough emotional connection with the dude, of course! To be fair, it is a movie from a male perspective about the male experience of growing into and finding a mature sexual relationship with a woman. It's not particularly focused on the experiences of the females around him. That's just not included in the script, but by ignoring some important aspects from the female perspective about what a mature sexual relationship might look like, I think it really missed opportunities.

Don Jon and lady friend
Let me get into the SSL review details here.I'll start with some little depictions and what they may insinuate to the audience. At least one clip (it's not released yet, so I can't rewatch for fine detail) I can recall  that intercuts clips of porn with clips on Don Jon's one night stands, showed a partner of his giving us one of those kinda pornish "uhs" as he pushes in. I'd put that into the status quo category of keeping up the lie that women get off from some simple in and out of the p in v. It was probably just added in to match cut the porn that surrounded it, but it is those little clues we media viewers constantly get about how other women's bodies react to intercourse that slowly cut away at our grasp on reality, so I can't really give it a full pass, but there was a more realistic scene later. He's pounding a woman real hard missionary style and really working hard to get himself off, and then when he finishes, his lady friend underneath just sort of pats him on the back, in an okay....I-guess-you're-done-now sort of way. It's pretty clear that he got off, but she didn't, which is pretty much how that would realistically go.

At one point in the movie it's pointed out to Don Jon that porn is fake, and it seems like that is something that has never slid through his mind before. In the end, I think it's pretty fair to say that Don Jon realizes that porn is fake in that there is no meaningful connection between the people having sex, but there is really nothing that also alludes to the fact that female orgasms are fake as shit in porn. I think even when a woman Don Jon is with points out things to him like that he is not very relaxed during sex and that the way he has sex is one-sided, she softens the allusion to faked or non-orgasming by being all like "don't worry, I was a satisfied customer." Even though she had just gotten a lifeless vag bang from him, and clearly neither of them were trying to stimulate the poor ol' clit, it kinda insinuates to the viewer that she may have actually come, and that her critiques are more about the lack of emotional rather than her lack of physical satisfaction.

Granted, Don Jon's realization that sex with another person can expand past the simple orgasm and into a state of emotional and physical connection is pretty much the focus here, so a women's experience of trying to merge orgasm with emotional and physical connectiveness is kinda out of scope. However, I think a movie about going from porn addiction to a meaningful relationship between a man and a woman that clearly ignores the non-orgasming female elephant in the one-night-stand-poking and/or porn-bangfest room, is one that didn't explore the subject fully or with too much thought towards the female experience. I really think that in the context of this movie, a frank exchange about how women clearly fake orgasms in porn or about his ladyfriend (and really all women) needing clit action to come, or even a quick depiction of Don Jon's partner rubbing herself off while they go at it, would not be out of place in this movie. I think the extra layer of physical pleasure and honesty that the two could share in these scenarios would actually increase the viewer's sense of compatibility, closeness, and maturity Don Jon has come to know with his lady. Yeah - I know I'm asking a lot, but these SSL review are about asking for more from our media; more female perspectives, more realistic depictions of female orgasms, more clit talk and clit love. It's not about really truly wanting the existing movie to change, but about opening minds to other possibilities and maybe affecting the content choice for other, future movies...hopefully at least.

So the movie gets 3 vulvas - I have no real matrix for scoring this stuff. I just thought it was well intentioned, but I think it missed a really good opportunity to be even more progressive and to speak more honestly.


but seriously, check it out. It's good.

Oh - and a documentary called After Porn Ends actually has a really poignant way of describing from the perspective of the stars the male experience of porn-as-devoid-of-connection and the female experience of porn-as-devoid-of-orgasm-and-connection. I wrote about it HERE. I think it backs up my feeling that Don Jon is a thoughtful story about porn, relationships, and sex, but really only thoughtful from the male perspective. It misses some important things if watched from a female perspective.

Also, I enjoyed the added touch of his reps and penance multi-tasking

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