The Joneses (2009)

The Joneses takes an intriguing and somewhat unique premise, holds that premise in the spotlight for about half of its running time, and then disregards it the second half, falling into clichéd storytelling as it does. It’s unfortunate, as there are some interesting ideas floating around the filmmakers’ heads; it just seemed like realizing them was a bit of a struggle. This happens sometimes — the talent level cannot match up with the ingenuity and imagination.

This is the directorial debut of Derrick Borte, and maybe it would have been better if he would have stuck to just the writer’s chair. Or even the producer’s. In this film, he handles all three duties, and he doesn’t appear to have been up for it. Maybe he was overloaded, or perhaps one of the aspects ended up taking too much time away from the other, or maybe this was exactly how he wanted the film to be, in which case, at least he managed to create what he wanted. But the second half didn’t work for me, and felt rushed and clichéd.

We begin with a family moving into a mansion in upscale suburbia. They’re your average family, at least in terms of size and distribution. In the family, we have: The father, Steve (David Duchovny); the mother, Kate (Demi Moore); the son, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth); and the daughter, Jenn (Amber Heard). As you can guess from the title, their family name is “Jones.” You’re probably wondering if a family can get more ordinary than the Joneses, but you might be surprised to learn that they’re inconspicuous by nature.

See, these four individuals aren’t related. Not by blood, anyway. They’re all related by their profession, which involves moving into rich neighborhood, posing as a family, and trying to provoke their neighbors into buying the latest products. They’re salespeople, essentially, except they infiltrate blocks of the city and live amongst the people, subtlety weaving the products they’re promoting into the lives of those around them. It’s a devious tactic, and I found that part of the film the most interesting.

There’s one family in particular that buys into what the Joneses are selling, and they come in the form of the Symonds. Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly) make up the pair, both of whom continuously show that they’re quite eager to consume the latest in cars, technology and beauty products. They also act as the audience’s receptor to see how well the Joneses are doing on their mission, as well as bring morality into play. We see the struggle that comes from being egged on to buy the most expensive new toys, and how that financial burden hurts even the most well-off person.

Not that the Joneses care about how other people feel. While the Symonds act as a handy tool for the audience, the impact that they’re having is never felt by the Joneses. I thought that this is the direction that the story was taken, but apart from one comment about how one of the characters is tired of lying to everyone, The Joneses doesn’t go that route. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between its two adult leads, Steve and Kate, and whether real feelings are developing between them.

After our movie began to take this turn, it started to get very boring. We’ve seen it before, and there are no surprises. Furthermore, the actual prospect of the characters having to continuously act as sales representatives is pretty much dropped so that Steve and Kate can go through rom-com tropes and unrealistic dramatic scenes. A couple of wrenches are thrown into the mix, but you’ve seen the second half of this film a dozen times over. After opening to such promise, it’s a real shame that The Joneses‘ second half couldn’t remain as strong as its first.

I’m sure most of us have heard the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses,” although if you haven’t, this movie will certainly explain it to you. But the satire never cuts all that deeply, and, especially in the latter half, you’re not going to gain much from watching it. Criticizing consumer culture can be fun, but The Joneses isn’t too occupied with that. It wants to bring an interesting premise to the table, use it for a while, and then disregard it in favor of a familiar drama that doesn’t work because we’ve been watching fake characters run around for an hour.

In the second half, we don’t even focus on the previously established ensemble element. It becomes very clear that Steve Jones is our lead, Kate is our romantic interest, and everyone else is in a very supporting role. The other two children are practically ignored, leaving me to wonder if the film was significantly cut down due to pacing issues. Seriously, they’re built up to have pretty big roles, and then they just disappear at the halfway marker, only popping in sporadically to remind us that they still exist. David Duchovny is a charismatic lead, but it seems odd to make him the main focus when that’s not how it is throughout.

The Joneses needed a tighter focus, or perhaps it just needed to avoid degenerating into a clichéd and uninteresting film. It starts off great, and continues on that path until midway through, but then it declines quickly, like a roller coaster once it reaches its peak. It’s easily watchable thanks to the actors, but if you’re hoping to take away anything from the film — it does want to be a satire, at times, anyway — you’ll be disappointed.

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