First-time director Derrick Borte’s “The Joneses” is a not-so-typical film about a not-so-typical family. The movie’s biggest flaw may be its thinly concealed plotline that leaves you little time to wonder what’s going on.
You know something’s wrong from the start; the tagline, “They’re not just living the American dream, they’re selling it” gives away the entire movie.
The opening sets the tone. The Joneses are an All-American family driving on the open roads, while movers place everything perfectly in their new home. When neighbors ring the doorbell, all four run to greet them linking arms. Their answers are vague (“He does a little of this, a little of that”), and their lives too perfect. They’re suspicious.
But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps the Joneses intrigue us so much because we know they’re unreal. We know what’s going on, but we buy it anyway. The “family” — rather, unit of four — includes mom Kate (Demi Moore) and dad Steve (David Duchovny of “X-Files” fame) and their two children, Jenn (Amber Heard, Seth Rogan’s girlfriend in “Pineapple Express”) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). Jenn wants to sleep with Steve, Steve and Kate never sleep in the same bed, and scenes are punctuated with shut doors, sterile spaces and lonely dinners.
The Joneses exist to sell their lifestyle to their neighbors. Steve dresses by a manual, uses golf as a ruse to sell golf merchandise and cars. Jenn’s gaggle of girls, before long, wear her lipstick, have her hair and don her clothes. The “family’s” worth is measured by how much they increase merchandise sales. “You’re here to sell a lifestyle. If people want you, they’ll want what you’ve got,” says KC (Lauren Hutton), the dominatrix in charge of the entire operation.
The Joneses come with their foil family, the Symonds, Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly), who have their own problems. They can’t have children, and Summer is unsuccessfully trying to sell a line of skin care as, unbeknownst to her, the Joneses sell her a life of debt. When the Symonds try to become the Joneses, they predictably fail, and we get to see the fatal side of consumerism. Debt, foreclosure, fights over bills.
Demi Moore is drop-dead gorgeous throughout the entire movie, but the audience can’t help but feel her acting chops are under-utilized. Lines are hollow and ordinary — even for this “extraordinary” family. Rookie director Derrick Borte’s inexperience glares at us as the movie takes a turn for the worse after the climax.
Everyone looks beautiful but the lack of substance is unforgivable. A character remarks, “You’ve seen one Mr. Jones, you’ve seen them all.” In light of the recent financial crisis and American consumerism, the familiarity of the need to buy and the cultural landscape may be too real and too soon for the silver screen.