The Joneses are a spectacularly charming family unit consisting of
two 40ish parents (Demi Moore and David Duchovny) and two teens. They are all
impossibly attractive and charismatic, and they are obviously prosperous. They
live in the perfect house in a ritzy neighborhood. They own every conceivable
high-end gadget, and are in the vanguard of every new trend. The kids love their
parents; they all seem to enjoy each other's company; they never seem vulnerable
to the tensions and problems that beset other families. Everyone wants to be
just like them. The perfect family.
Except they aren't.
They're perfect, but they aren't a family.
They are a team of upscale marketers with annual contracts. Their
job is to move into high-end neighborhoods and convince all members of the local
nouveau riche to buy certain cars, golf clubs, wines, electronics, clothes,
beauty products, etc. The woman circulates among the local society women at the
trendiest salons. The man networks at the local country club. The kids throw the
best parties in history. Once the Joneses become the most popular people in
their area, and have befriended all the local tastemakers, they kick their
marketing efforts into even higher gear, their ultimate goal: the ripple effect,
when everyone in their market wants what they are flaunting.
The marketing effort is initially successful, but starts to
collapse in some ways. There are two flies in the ointment:
First, the false family consists of real human beings with
genuine human needs and desires which conflict with their marketing aims. After all, how many actors can play a role like
that for 24 hours a day, for a year, all the while eschewing any real family life,
any real romances, even any revelation of their true identities and natures?
Luxury is nice, but it isn't everything.
Furthermore, their actions cause consequences in the real world.
Teen parties generate drunk drivers. A quest to "keep up with the Joneses" leads
some neighbors to despair.
Those two glitches in the marketing scheme, as detailed above, develop separately into two
radical plot twists which come back-to-back, crammed into the film's final
minutes, and the result is that the script swerves in the opposite direction from
its previous route of dark,
laid-back satire. First, there is a contrived
tragedy of genuinely operatic proportions which generates a radical tone shift.
Then there is an equally contrived happy ending which shifts the tone again. In
the course of just a few minutes, the film moves from a Seinfeld level of
unemotional and hug-free black comedy to an operatic level of sincere,
hand-wringing tragedy, and then to a final sappy cop-out based on the premise
that "love conquers all."
It's as if some bold and edgy indie script had its ending secretly re-written by
an out-of-work Hollywood hack.
My take is that anyone who cared for the film's first hour would have to find at
least one of those final twists to be false and most unwelcome.
Another problem with the film is that hypocrisy is
inherent to its structure. While the film is essentially preaching a message
against conspicuous consumption, it is simultaneously performing the same
function as the fictional pseudo-family at its core: promoting a lot of upmarket
products, using real brand names. In fact, this film did such a good job at product placement that I
didn't care about all that sappy redemptive baloney at the end. I just knew that I
hadda get me some o' that shit they were promoting! Anybody know how I can get a
good deal on a new Audi?
The good news is that The Joneses is a film with important ideas, and it
could provoke a lively post-film kaffeeklatsch. That in itself is refreshing in
a time when most movies seem to be sequels written by the studios' marketing
departments. The bad news is that the film tends to be flawed by inconsistencies
in its tone and its message, and is simply too unengaging and too lightweight to
carry the big ideas.