Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: "The Joneses"

Some movies present a bigger challenge to review. I'd prefer to write about "The Joneses" without revealing the film's big surprise, but I would have to be so circumspect and vague as to be of dubious use to you.

So I'm trying something new: Review A and Review B. Only read the first one if you want to discover the film's secret for yourself. Move on to B if you want a fuller picture.


The Joneses, the new family in an unnamed town, are a curiosity. Steve and Kate (David Duchovny and Demi Moore) and their teen children Jenn and Mick (Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth) seem to have it all. Each of them is gorgeous and charismatic, and immediately grab the center of attention in their respective social circles.

Their huge house has been tastefully outfitted with the poshest furniture and decorations, and they have all the newest gizmos, golf clubs, clothes, beauty products and toys.

They are, by all measures available, perfect.

But strange clues abound. While the envy of other married couples for their copious gift exchanging and passionate PDAs, Kate and Steve sleep in separate beds. The kids seem especially emotionally detached from their parents -- even by teen standards.

With all their newfound friends and neighbors trying to emulate their swank lifestyle, the Joneses have to work hard to maintain appearances. And yet, none of them seem to have jobs to pay for it all. Steve spends most of his time at the golf course, and Kate apparently gets a mani-pedi every other day.

Clearly, there's more to keeping up with these upscale Joneses than meets the eye.

OK, read no further if don't want to learn the big reveal. Spoilers, ahoy.


The Joneses are not a real family. They're "self marketers" -- peopled hired by companies to peddle their products indirectly. Instead of knocking on doors to sell stuff, the Joneses move from city to city living the high life, subtly convincing their neighbors to buy the high-end goods of their clients.

K.C. (Lauren Hutton), the mysterious supervisor who occasionally shows up in a black limo to go over the numbers, explains it best:

"You're here to sell a lifestyle, an attitude. If they like you, they'll want what you've got."
This may sound conniving and underhanded, but some version of it is already happening in all sorts of industries. Heck, film studios have been putting "plants" into promotional screenings for years, to laugh and cry at just the right places to pump up the audience's reaction.

So in reality, Steve is a failed golf pro and car salesman, hired to play dream hubby to Kate, an ambitious veteran and the boss of this "unit." And Mick and Jenn -- played, appropriately enough, by actors in their mid-20s slumming as high schoolers -- have more grown-up proclivities than their would-be peers.

Writer/director Derrick Borte (working from a story by Randy T. Dinzler) ladles on the satire of consumer culture with a generous hand, but manages to keep the tone light and biting -- at least until the ending, which is pat and predictable.

Given our current economic trough, it can be a bit sickening to witness all the conspicuous consumption of luxury cars and unnecessary junk -- "He who dies with the most toys, wins!" is Steve's declared motto.

I feel compelled to point out that the merchandise featured in "The Joneses" is real stuff from real companies, who are duly listed in the end credits. It would seem strange that they would want to be identified as product placement perpetrators in a film mocking such practices.

Maybe K.C. was right, and if people like the movie, they'll want the stuff they saw in it. "What a wonderful send-up of the culture of envy! Now where can I test-drive one of those Audi R8's?"

3 stars out of four

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