For a movie that takes its title from a cliche, The Joneses actually has some refreshing observations about the ill effects of our inexplicable desire to be amongst the earliest of adaptors, and the most fashionable figures in our community. Released at a time when the American economy is in an unsettling state of flux, yet our obsession with having the latest model iPhone or the highest resolution flat-screen television is at an all-time high, writer/director Derrick Borte’s freshman feature feels as if it were almost willed into being by some sort of abstract common madness rather than scripted and produced like your typical feature film. And while The Joneses may become somewhat predictable once the central conflict comes into play, it never stalls out completely thanks in large part to the commendable efforts of a talented cast.
The Joneses may have just moved into their posh new community, but they’re already a hit with the neighbors. Golf fanatic father Steve (David Duchovny) only plays with the latest drivers; gorgeous mother Kate (Demi Moore) is highly fashionable; daughter Jenn (Amber Heard) effortlessly slips in with the cool crowd; and son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) has all the latest gadgets. It isn't long before the Joneses have struck up a friendship with their next-door neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly), and become integral components of their community. But take a closer look at this picture-perfect family and you'll start to notice something unusual. The Joneses are an illusion. They specialize in self-marketing, a revolutionary sales technique driven by the philosophy that if people want you, they’ll want the things you’ve got. It's only when the Joneses are confronted with an unexpected disaster that they finally discover who they really are beneath the glossy veneer of consumerism.
What better way to break through to your high-earning customer base than to move in right next door and know the names of their kids and pets? It may seem a bit far-fetched at first, but the deeper Borte delves into his killer concept, the more feasible it begins to feel. These days, it seems as if everyone is trying to sell us something. Take a walk through your local mall and odds are good you’ll be inundated with offers from kiosk workers hawking the latest cell phones and skin-care products. Head down to the local bar for a drink, and you may just find yourself beset by a B-girl whose job it is to coax you into buying the brand of vodka that’s attempting to get an edge on Grey Goose. No wonder everyone’s so wary of talking to strangers; it’s nearly impossible to tell when someone is being genuine, or operating with some clandestine hidden agenda. The Joneses’ writer/director Borte certainly isn’t; his message is clear -- you are not what you own.
By taking a semi-satirical approach to delivering this message, Borte successfully highlights the absurdities and dangers of striving to always be on top of trends. For a first-time screenwriter, his ideas are presented in a highly effective manner, even if his senses of structure and pacing haven’t yet been honed to perfection. Under different circumstances this may have proven highly detrimental to the film, but in this instance Borte was working with a talented cast and crew whose firm grasp on the material helps to elevate it. Duchovny and Moore are both pitch-perfect, Heard and Hollingsworth each carry dramatic developments with the skill of seasoned pros, and Cole is at his subdued best as the envious neighbor who buys their act, and starts to live beyond his means. Yaron Orbach’s glossy cinematography quite appropriately lends the endeavor the feel of a slick commercial. And while it may have been interesting to see Borte try and dissect the reasons we get so easily tricked into becoming mindless consumers rather than just highlighting the end results, at least he’s asking us to actually think about the subject while he’s poking fun at it. For that reason it’s easy to forgive The Joneses its minor shortcomings, and appreciate the ways it makes us laugh at our own driving desire for social acceptance.
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- Released: 2009
- Rating: R
- Review: For a movie that takes its title from a cliche, The Joneses actually has some refreshing observations about the ill effects of our inexplicable desire to be amongst the earliest of adaptors, and the most fashionable figures in our community. Released at a… (more)