At the heart of The Joneses is a message. It’s not enough to want the American dream anymore, you have to be able to afford it. It’s not enough to want good things anymore, you have to find a way to pay for them. Because after all, isn’t happiness about what you can be with it?
That’s what The Joneses starts out as, a scathing commentary on our materialistic culture and our inherent competition with those around us. After all, what good is having things if you can’t show them off? And for a while, The Joneses chugs along nicely. See, The Joneses may look like they have it all together, but they’re no ordinary family. In fact, they’re not a family at all. The film examines (or rather, it satirizes) the latest method of selling people what they don’t need and can’t afford by way of something called “stealth marketing.” It involves a unit, like The Joneses, coming in to a place and basically selling themselves and their materialistic goods.
If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, you may be right. Replace the word “sell” with “steal” and you pretty much have the plot for the sadly cancelled FX show The Riches, but that’s where the similarities end. Most complaints I’ve heard about the film center around the fact that it would function better as a TV show. This might be true, but my question is for how long? The premise is a great one and certainly deserves more than the mere 95 minutes it’s afforded, but a TV show? Seriously? That premise would run out fast, so I saw no need for it to be a TV show.
It does an excellent job of fleshing out its lead characters, particularly David Duchovny as Steve, the new guy to the sales team, and Kate, the seasoned veteran who would do just about anything to get ahead. Sure, they’re archetypes, but who better to play them than two unusually hot for the age movie stars? No, but seriously, Duchovny brings the charm that we’ve seen glimpses of in Californication and it’s good to see Demi Moore back in fine form. The problem is that about halfway through the movie, they become all that we see. At some point, (I can’t even figure out when, that’s how good they are) the movie loses its punch and starts drinking the kool-aid, falling into the same formula of most Hollywood movies. It’s particularly the end that’s unforgivable, but the ride up until then is an incredibly enjoyable one.
Still, to ignore some of the other players in the film is almost criminally negligent. Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth give strong performances as the “kids” of the family. each one is given a somewhat compelling subplot, but the movie never really dedicates itself to finding answer for Jenn and Mick. Heard’s storyline finds its way back to the fold, in an oddly touching scene between “mother” and “daughter” but it’s a shame that Mick’s relationship to the family isn’t explored more since it’s a sincere parallel and could have easily been made one of the stand-out parts of the film.
However, it’s not all about the family. Gary Cole and Glenne Headly, as the next door neighbors Larry and Summer, are supposed to stand in for the average American, which isn’t an easy task when the average income of the neighborhood is roughly $100,000. Still, Larry and Summer are the ones who are buying what the Joneses are selling and as a result, they’re the ones who are faced with the crisis of our economic times. Their portrayal is both relatable and conflicted, culminating in a memorable third act. Larry and Summer’s situation is both timely and painfully true, which is what makes The Joneses one of the stronger entries into the category of movies that try to approach the economic crisis our country faces.
In the end, The Joneses is worth keeping up with at just about any cost. It’s not without its problems, but for a debut feature film, Derrick Borte’s social commentary is a valiant effort. Charming performances from the leads and capable comedic timing, as well as a touch of drama here and there, from the supporting cast are what helps to sell this movie. Still, it’s fairy tale ending softens some of the blows it’s dealt along the way, which sadly cheapens it. My best suggestion? Turn it off right before the last scene like I used to do with Old Yeller. If you didn’t see it, then it didn’t happen. Until then, keep buying the American dream.