The Joneses: a satire that backfires


There is an inherent problem with the Joneses, a film meant to criticize blind consumerism: The supposed heroes are the source of the wicked behavior the film intends to send up. If the concept does not seem half-baked from the beginning, by the third act, the film begins to reek of corporate meddling designed to sell popcorn.

Derrick Borte makes a discouraging directing and writing debut with this film starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny, release by the independent studio Roadside Attractions. The couple head a “fake family” comprised of salespeople meant to generate sales of products from clothing to cars by simply using them in front of neighbors and occasionally talking about how much they love the stuff.

From the start, you’re supposed to be laughing along with these people, but they represent everything that is so vile about today’s SUV-driving, plasma screen-loving, McMansion-living culture. They are the ciphers that celebrate everything that brought the economy to its knees in the not too recent past. To this day, the bankers are up to their same old tricks assigning themselves exorbitant bonuses when someone should have thrown them in jail. Meanwhile, the everyman still struggles to find a job to replace the one lost during the near depression of 2008. Why should anyone care about these characters?

As they maneuver their Audi A4 Avant into an upper-class neighborhood, Kate and Steve Jones prattle on about the income bracket they are driving into, drooling about the money they will generate out of stealth marketing new products to their new, posh neighbors. Rounding out the clan are a pair of teens meant to hook high schoolers on pointless trends. There’s Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), a teen struggling with identity (but the audience has no glimpse of this until an all-too apparent pass on one of his new male friends). Then there is Jenn (Amber Heard) a sex bomb with a taste for married men.

Given the material, the actors do a fine job, though what seems to pass as an explanation for falling in love is the cheap ploy of soft music and faces slowly coming close to kissing but not. Supposedly Steve has a thing for Kate, who, though playing his wife, is really the supervisor of the “unit.”

What the film mostly seems to focus on are the name brand products constantly bandied about. Taking up true-life companies and constantly filming their products with affection, is the first misstep of the film. Why not make up the brands, if you really want to indict the corporations that prey on the credit lines on the desperate-to-be-cool consumer? The movie just feels like a long advertisement, especially with no consequences for the purported intruders.

What could have been a subversive criticism on the feel-good consumerism of our current age, becomes another flip, superficial love story smashed into the cookie cutter of the Hollywood film

If this movie is supposed to be black comedy or satire, how is anything resolved by leading the audience to sympathize with these douche bags? After Larry, a sad sack neighbor played by Gary Cole guided the wrong way to happiness in his marriage by the opportunist Steve, garishly succumbs to his over-spending in a tragic twist, Steve decides to come clean about his act. At this point I would have hoped to see the neighborhood turn on them and maybe burn the whole phony clan down in their fancy house. Instead, we are supposed to be moved by Steve and Kate running away together from the dirty job with no sins to absolve. The ending even feels tacked on after a focus group filled with common numb-skull consumers expressed a desire for a happy end for this family of scum.

It makes me yearn for the days Hollywood had to follow the moralistic rules of the Hays code that, among other things, ruled that any character who does an evil act during the film should somehow get his or hers comeuppance at the end. In the end, the Joneses is an utterly misguided mess that throws such a softball to consumerist culture, it actually makes it look good.

The Joneses is rated ‘R’ and opens in wide release today, April 16.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)



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