Film review by: Witney Seibold
How’s this for a timely setup?: The Jones family is a supernaturally attractive brood who has just moved into an affluent sector of town. They have all the coolest stuff. The best cars, the best clothes, the best electronics, the best beauty products, the best food, the best golf clubs. They are all charming people, and, dammit are they ever good looking. They are the ones to keep up with.
It turns out, though, that The Joneses are actually a hired group of actors – called “producers” in the movie – who have been enlisted by an advertising agency to live an affluent life, and push particular products on the neighbors. They are living, breathing, walking advertisements for an unobtainable yuppie-porn lifestyle. In a modern age when private citizens are eagerly driving “wrapped” cars, and advertising’s ubiquity only seems to be spreading, this setup seems not only plausible, but makes me suspicious of some of my more well-to-do buddies.
The Joneses in Derrick Borte‘s new movie are played by David Duchovny (gorgeous as usual), Demi Moore (more gorgeous than usual), Ben Hollingsworth (whom I have not seen before, but who is still gorgeous), and Amber Heard (who is so gorgeous that it’s unfair). As a family, they have the act down flat, even though this is Duchovny’s first time doing this. As co-workers, though, they have a few issues. Mom is a cold, business-only type. Son seems to be a little tired of lying to the neighbors all the time. Sis is determined against all reason to shag a married man in his forties (any one will do, really). And pops, well, he’s still getting the hang of this entire thing, coasting mostly on leftover charm from his old car salesman job.
He also, after a short while, begins to realize that living a ersatz yuppie life is not really a very edifying replacement for the everyday machinations of real human relationships. Sure, he sells well, but he and Moore are clearly attracted to one another, and have a lot of trouble laying down where the lines of intimacy (both physical and emotional) should be in their imaginary marriage/professional working relationship. There is also a scene early on where we see Heard bundling up nude in Duchovny’s bed. Implied incest. That would have been an interesting development.
“The Joneses,” however, doesn’t really do much more with the high concept; it’s mostly just a chronicle of angst, and not the sharp-toothed satire that it so clearly could have been. What happens when they receive a product they don’t want to sell? Could they stop selling? How do their bosses track the direct effect they’re having on the local markets? Any sort of high-concept rebellion, or Stepford-like commentary is abandoned in favor of effective but predictable comments on honesty and being true to yourself and etc. this was a pity, as the setup was so clever, and the talented cast so appealing (and not just because of their good looks). I don’t want to give anything away, but the ending strikes a false note to me; it felt a little bit like a cop-out. The most poignant scenes in the film come from Gary Cole and Glenne Headly as the stressed-out, and poorly duped neighbors.
This is one of those films, like “EdTV,” or “The TV Set” that will be referred to for its ideas, but never cited for its quality. I enjoyed the film for long stretches, and sometimes a good idea can carry a film a long way. I just wish that “The Joneses” had gone all the way.