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  The Joneses

Starring: Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth

Directed by: Derrick Bortz

Produced by: Douglas Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Kristi Zea, Derrick Borte
Written by: Derrick Borte
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

     If nothing else, one must credit The Joneses for having the most inventive premise of any movie in a long time. Taking the old adage “Keeping up with the Joneses” to the height of modern excess, Derrick Borte’s first feature tells the story of a team of “stealth marketers” who move into affluent suburbs as a family in order to covertly pitch all the hottest products to their neighbors. They work for a company called, appropriately enough, LifeImage. Mom Kate Jones (Demi Moore) models beauty products and throws parties using frozen food for fellow housewives, dad Steve (David Duchovny) shows off expensive golf equipment and a luxury car to his new buds, and kids Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) set all the trends at high school. Critics will complain that the movie isn’t as edgy as it could’ve been and doesn’t go much of anywhere, but I was fascinated enough by the central idea and the characters that I was fully entertained for its 96 minutes.

     The movie’s foremost victory is that it paints a realistic setting for the comparatively hyperbolic concept. As one who has lived in a land of upper-middle class WASP families all my life, I had no trouble buying into the Joneses’ surroundings and how malleable the neighbors are when it comes to adopting new products. This perceived authenticity, in turn, makes the title family more believable—even when things get a little ridiculous—because they’re built upon a foundation of truth. It’s the small things that foster this sense of realism, like the fact that as one of the neighboring couple goes deep into debt, the wife works as a Mary Kayesque beauty products saleswoman. Intended juxtaposition with the Joneses aside, isn’t this how every rich housewife attempts to make extra cash?

     There is also internal conflict within the fictional Jones family. Long a bachelor, Steve gets more from the family dynamic than he might expect, becoming very attached to the idea his new housemates. This does not, however, happen before he sleeps with Jenn, the young woman playing his daughter. She’s the family’s loose-canon, going after another older, married man once Kate puts a stop on sex with Steve. Kate, on the other hand, is all business, tracking the family’s sales every day and resisting any of Steve’s attempts to form a more human relationship. Mick lingers somewhere outside of the loop, struggling with his own personal issues, not the least of which that he’s a closet homosexual. Critics will contend that this is all fairly typical dysfunctional-family drama, and it is. But something about these performances—excellent across the board—rang true to me. While they’re conventional in some respects, I found the Joneses thoroughly interesting.

     The one part of the movie that doesn’t really work is its depiction of the economic recession. It relies solely on the aforementioned neighbors, Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly), who are on spending themselves away from exorbitant wealth and into government welfare at a rapid rate. While she stands completely ignorant to the warning-signs, he continues to buy Jones-pitched products knowing that the tendency will lead them to financial ruin. This story-thread adheres to the most conventional representation of Americans in debt possible, so it’s pretty uninteresting. We’ve seen it countless times on the news already; the movie should’ve provided a more insightful, unique take on the issue. Its lacking in this department proves considerably troublesome, too, because Larry is a prominent player in the film’s conclusion.

     Despite its hollowness in certain areas, however, The Joneses is thought-provoking. Indeed, one could’ve made a better film from this juicy premise, but the same is true of most movies. Unlike others, I’m thankful for what writer/director Boortz has given audiences, which is a timely look at a story that may seem far-flung at first, but is actually pretty true-to-life when you think about it.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 4.24.2010


The Joneses is rated R and runs 93 minutes.

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