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Joneses, The
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by Mel Valentin

"A not-quite blistering, but always watchable anti-consumerist satire."
4 stars

Have you heard of the Joneses? If you grew up in suburbia (or even if you didn't), you know the Joneses as that semi-mythical family down the street or road who had the latest cars, the latest clothes, and the latest electronic gadgets. Someone in the family had money to burn or credit cards to use (and abuse). As part of American mythology, the Joneses are supposed to be part of a cautionary tale, as in don't try to keep up with the Joneses or you'll go bankrupt. Or maybe you're already (morally) bankrupt if you define yourself by what you buy and what you consume. But those same moral scolds (maybe) harbor a desire to be just the like Joneses, to have their every material want (material needs don't factor into the equation) met.

How exactly does the previous paragraph tie into The Joneses, a comedy-drama/satire that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall and opens this weekend? The name isn't accidental. It's central to the larger point first-time director and co-writer Derrick Borte tries to make about the current state of American consumerism and our precarious dependence on consumerism (and consumption) to fill emotional voids inside each and everyone one of our consumption-addicted hearts. The Joneses is also Demi Moore's latest (357th, but who's counting?) attempt at a Hollywood comeback. It's unlikely to work, not because she doesn't give a strong performance (she does, surprisingly enough), not because David Duchovny, an actor whose skills and talents are generally better suited to the small screen, plays her ersatz husband in The Joneses, but because, like so many indie films, The Joneses opens this weekend on a handful of screens with minimal audience awareness.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's rewind The Joneses to the opening scene as Steve (Duchovny), Kate (Moore), and their two ersatz children, Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), move into their new, spacious home in an upper-scale neighborhood. Steve and Kate quickly ingratiate themselves with their next-door neighbors, Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly). With no visible signs of income, Steve heads out to a leisurely day at the golf course to meet the other members of the local plutocracy. Kate heads for the most popular beauty parlor where she befriends the owner. Jenn and Mick prove just as popular with their high school classmates, who, thanks to their parent-provided credit cards, purchase everything Jenn and Mick are wearing, using, and/or suggesting.

The Joneses, however, aren’t a “real” family. They’re not biologically related. They’ve been sent into the unsuspecting community to sell, sell, and sell. They’re employees of a mega-marketing corporation who move from wealthy community to wealthy community, using their looks, charms, and various selling techniques to convince their new neighbors and friends to purchase big-ticket, high-end goods. Kate hopes to reach the coveted “Icon” status with her company. Icon status allows members to take a participatory involvement in selecting goods to sell and creating marketing strategies. A first-timer, Steve, a former golf pro and car salesman, however, has moral qualms about his and his “family’s” actions.

Steve may be alone, at least at first, in questioning his chosen profession, but the other members of his “family” develop problems of their own. Mick doesn’t quite fit in (he has a secret, no guesses on what it is), Jenn doesn’t like high school boys and pursues older men. Kate refuses to become emotionally involved with Steve or anyone for that matter. For her, selling isn’t just what she does, it’s who she is. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and characters played by Demi Moore go awry, mostly in unsurprising, predictable ways, but The Joneses manages to make a 180-degree turn from consumerist satire to family melodrama with only a few speed bumps.

That narrative turn simultaneously blunts "The Joneses’" satirical, comic edge and asks moviegoers to become emotionally invested in characters that, at least until that moment in the film, are relatively shallow. While it’s not an easily ignored problem, it still has to be weighed against the other narrative elements, the direction (assured, especially for a first-timer), and, of course, the performances, all of them believable, with standout turns by Gary Cole, the Joneses’ neighbor who lets envy dictate his ever-accelerating big-ticket purchases and Glenne Headly as his character’s wife, lost in an ultimately pitiful desire to become a top-selling cosmetics salesperson. Now if only the ubiquitous product placement wasn’t so enticing.

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originally posted: 04/17/10 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/02/10 Corky Neither enough bite nor humor to transcend its mediocrity... 3 stars
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  16-Apr-2010 (R)
  DVD: 10-Aug-2010


  DVD: 10-Aug-2010

Directed by
  Derrick Borte

Written by
  Derrick Borte

  Demi Moore
  David Duchovny
  Amber Heard
  Gary Cole
  Glenne Headly
  Lauren Hutton

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