Only in a recession can a film like The Joneses have more impact than during the economic boom that preceded it. When times are booming we don’t mind rampant consumerism and the pursuit of having the best things because times are good. When times are tough we get reminded of what got us there in the first place. The Joneses is a black comedy focusing on the excesses of the rampant lifestyle that comes with the old phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” with an interesting catch.
On the surface Steve Jones (David Duchovny) and his wife Kate (Demi Moore) have the near perfect life and lifestyle. On the cutting edge of style, they have two children (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) who are early adapters and the family is the envy of everyone in their posh suburb. But they have a secret: they’re not really a family. A unit of “stealth marketing,” they’re paid by companies to push their products in affluent communities. From the newest in cars to golf clubs and fashionable alcoholic drinks, the group lives the life that major companies want to make millions off of. They have one goal: make everyone else buy it.
And for the opening two acts this is an absolutely razor sharp black comedy, getting to the heart of the rampant consumerism that has seemingly defined the American lifestyle over the last fifty years. The Jones family always has the latest gadgets and they find rather insightful ways to push product while not actively being official sales reps. There’s a creativity to it that becomes interesting to watch; just exactly how they get their affluent neighborhood to buy stuff they don’t need with money they don’t’ have becomes a game they play with such shocking coldness that it gets to the heart of the consumerist culture we live in.
Duchovny is our window into this world of stealth marketing in a team of seasoned professionals and has an interesting naiveté about it. Formerly a used car salesman, and used to living in a profession with moral and ethical flexibilities, he’s surprised at the limits he’s willing to go to in his new profession. This isn’t a role requiring him to do anything more than he does on Californication but he doesn’t merely ape that part for this film; Steve is an inherently decent human being who just has that certain moral flexibility required of his position but hasn’t quite sold his soul to it yet. Duchovny is strong but can only do so much; the film doesn’t give him a proper finale to the tight black comedy it develops early on.
The film can’t maintain that sort of razor’s edge and still remain commercial, it seems, and as such the film goes off the rails to try and get a happy ending out of this. Duchovny gives a long speech on the nature of consumerism, in particular, that could’ve been left unsaid and been much more powerful. The way Duchovny uses his body language during the event that triggers his meltdown is remarkably powerful but gives him an easy way out. It completely deflates the film and takes away the power of the circumstances behind it.
The Joneses remains, then, a mostly razor sharp film that fails because it dulls up when it should be its sharpest.
Presented in a Dolby Digital surround with a widescreen format, the film looks spectacular. This is a film with a lot of color and great cinematography and it comes through wonderfully on Blu Ray.
Deleted Scenes are included but don’t anything back into the film.
The Joneses disappointed in its theatrical run and is a disappointment on Blu-ray as well. Besides a handful of deleted scenes there isn’t anything extra beyond the film, a slightly above average affair, which is disappointing because one would think there would be more than that for a film with a high profile cast and which is relevant to today’s economic climate.
20th Century Fox presents The Joneses . Written and Directed by Derrick Borte. Starring David Duchovny, Amber Heard, Demi Moore, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R. Released on Blu-ray: August 10, 2010.