Mark Reviews Movies

THE JONESES

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Derrick Borte

Cast: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Gary Cole, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Glenne Headly, Lauren Hutton

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some sexual content, teen drinking and drug use)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 4/16/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 15, 2010

Here is the American ideal of the ideal American family. Their home is a model of sleek interior design, huge photos of each member lining the walls, reflecting their status as rulers of a model home. Their accessories are the newest and best. When they throw a party, they have the latest frozen appetizers from a premier chef. They are attractive, likable, and that brand new car in the drive isn't even on the market yet.

They are the Joneses, and none of the neighbors catch on to that moniker because they are too busy keeping up.

The Joneses is writer/director Derrick Borte's biting satire of the consumer culture, a film with an ingenious gimmick, the tone of a cynic, and, somehow, through it all, a conscience.

A conscientious satire might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but it inherently comes with the territory of pointing out society and humanity's faults.  In picking apart what's wrong, one is indirectly saying what could be right. The Joneses is very conscious of its conscience, and in this case, when dissecting the cultural norm of keeping up appearances with one's possessions to the point of self-destruction in an economy where people are struggling to come back after experiencing the effects of such behavior as social whole, that over-awareness is fitting, perhaps even necessary.

The film follows the Joneses, an affluent family that has just moved in to a well-off neighborhood full of rich neighbors. They are father Steve (David Duchovny), mother Kate (Demi Moore), daughter Jenn (Amber Heard), and son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). Steve plays golf and shows all his new golfing buddies, including next-door neighbor Larry (Gary Cole) his great swing, made all the better by his new clubs. Kate impresses the other wives of the area with her stylish walking shoes. Mick shows off his new video game system to his friends. Jenn gets all the girls in her class to wear the same clothes.

Everyone loves the family's video phones, cars, and giant television.

Something is not right in the Jones household, though. Steve and Kate sleep in separate rooms. Jenn is a magnet for older men, and Mick can't quite find a girlfriend.

There is something awry with family, and that problem defines what the movie is about. At a time when advertising gives away all the best scenes and secrets of a movie, this is one that should be kept off the radar.

Once uncovered, what follows is an inventive assault on consumerism. The Joneses are the ultimate product of it. They are the pinnacle of the concept that people's lives are run by what they have and what they could have in the future. The people of this cloistered community believe that lifestyle and livelihood are synonymous, and the Joneses are just the right family for the 'burb.

Borte exaggerates matters just enough and in the process invents some delicious pieces of affluence. There's a lawnmower with a television set, which Larry uses at night to keep out of the house while his wife (Glenne Headly) focuses on her plan to sell makeup to her neighbors. The Joneses stock up on alcohol in juice box containers, and no one quite understands why their presence leads to an out-of-control party where underage drinking prevails. After the fact, of course, it becomes an issue.

Steve grapples with an identity crisis. Kate wants to take her career to the next level (It is amazing that no one in the neighborhood questions what they do for a living, but if they're living there, it must be worthy of their company). Mick finds a friend who's outside of the flash of technology and style, but there's always a brand or two that's just right for the anti-establishment.

The heart of the film lies in Larry. Juxtaposed with the Joneses way of having everything for nothing, Larry works harder, refinances more, and increases debt to give his wife what he thinks so wants, deserves. When Steve buys Kate a Tuesday gift of a diamond necklace, Larry thinks that might be the way to bring his marriage back. After buying the same model car as Steve, Larry pulls up to find his best buddy in an even newer car. There is no end to the race to sustain such means.

The film's premise falters not in making its point but afterward. The family's group and individual dysfunctions work in the context of what they represent in the satire, but once the film hits the point home (in a scene both absurd and upsetting, thanks mainly to Cole's performance), those come to forefront. Borte doesn't obtain the dramatic effect he's after, and the ending is one of the more tacked-on happy ones in recent memory.

The denouement of The Joneses is faulty, but it comes after a smart, incisive, and genuinely funny reflection of consumerism run amuck.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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