POSTED ON APRIL 28, 2010:
America in the Mirror
The Joneses shows our country's consumer behaviors -- in certain regards
Barely Keeping Up. David Duchovny and Demi Moore (above) star as Mr. and Mrs. Jones in the lessonto- be-taught film, The Joneses.
Let's face it, we are a nation of consumers. We like to buy things. We like to have the latest shiny new gadget, trinket or life-changing technology. Being a population full of consumers, we are bombarded by marketing and commercials -- some of it subtle, some of it hit-you-on-the-skull obvious. There is no escaping the torrent of advertisements that face us each and every day.
We expect ads to be in traditional form -- print, radio, TV, etc. What if sales were more invisible, though, and you didn't realize that you were being force fed a product? What if the sales team was the perfect neighbors who had just moved into your community? The Joneses is a satire that starts off with that very promising little hook but, by the end, manages to lose all of its edge by taking the Hollywood route.
The Joneses are a perfect family unit. They are attractive, fashionable and have exquisite taste in everything that surrounds them. It's all a sham. The Joneses are not what they appear to be to their fellow citizens. They are living, breathing human advertisements and a new kind of sales person: stealth marketers.
When the fraud of a family move into a prosperous suburban neighborhood, everyone around them realizes, within a day or two, that they are in desperate need of something they don't have. It could be make-up, golf clubs, jogging outfits, phones, shoes or a lawnmower with a television attached to it. If the Joneses like it, others lust after whatever it is and want it, too. You've heard the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses," right?
The family is paid well by corporations to live among people with money to spend. When the year is up, they move on to the next location. Trouble begins on the family front when family members cross the line between reality and making sales. The "kids" are kind of screwed up.
Dad (David Duchovny) is a first-timer, an ex-car salesman, who starts to think pursuing his fake-wife (Demi Moore) might be worth the risk of losing this cushy, high-paying job.
Early in the film, when the well-oiled quad of sales people work their magic on the suckers, dupes and rubes, The Joneses is a smart little satire. It scores points regarding community pressures and vulnerabilities regarding personal desires. What one person has, another person covets; what you have is never enough when compared to the more successful neighbor.
Good satire has enough guts to hold onto its venom all the way until the end, The Joneses doesn't make it half way through the film before it starts going off the rails. Writer/director Derrick Borte has decided to take his good ideas and go a traditional, softer direction. Borte didn't have the guts to stick with the best parts of his film and the end results ruin the movie.
The characters onscreen are all hollow, superficial, professional salespeople. The lives they lead are empty, devoid of personality, based entirely on spiking sales charts and making contacts. They are commodities.
The film begins to try to connect the audience to these people, and it feels forced and unauthentic. It's impossible to care about such blatantly artificial individuals as these, so why even try?
Had Borte skipped all the emotional speeches about how these people lead "real" lives too and just hammered home the social satire, his film would have been light years better. Having people exist as high-paid, unrepentant products with no apologies is an intriguing idea to be explored.
Going the opposite way, where characters ponder their existence and go off the deep end due to envious over-spending, is not believable in the slightest. The last third of The Joneses has the tone of an After School Special about debt management; I doubt that was its intention.
The Joneses is a satire that wants to hold a mirror up to our consumerist ways and teach us a lesson about ourselves. You know, we buy a lot of stuff in America. Unfortunately, the nice ideas the film has are abandoned for predictable Hollywood ideas. What could have been sharp and pointed, ends up soft and safe. I think I'll go out and buy a lawnmower with a satellite dish attached to it -- do they make those yet?
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