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The Joneses is a movie that almost had to be made in America; possibly in Japan, but I don't know that the Japanese are this satirical. It's all about greed and consumption, and the damaging effects of both. If it stuck completely to these guns, this might have been an excellent movie. Don't get me wrong, it's a dark, clever take on materialism, but the mood shifts so often, I'm not altogether sure whose side I'm supposed to be on: The Joneses or their unwitting victims. Thankfully, the viewers aren't the victims here.
I say in good faith that the script for The Joneses probably reads better than the movie plays out. Most of the film's plot descriptions refer to a "secret" that the Jones family has, and you'd have to be mentally bankrupt to not guess what it is in the first few minutes. But that's okay, because it's not a finale twist or anything; it comes out in the first half hour, and it will begin my second paragraph. In those first few minutes, we meet this too-perfect family, made up of parents Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate (Demi Moore) and kids Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard). They're in the process of moving into a gigantic house in wealth-ridden suburbia, and they talk like a '50 s sitcom family to everyone they meet. The first ones to their door are the neighbors, Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer Symonds (Glenne Headly), and the Symonds are immediately impressed with the Joneses. This is a pattern that repeats, albeit with completely generic others. Now then, stop reading if you want to be out of the loop from the beginning. Do not stop reading.
Here's the thing. They're not a real family. They're an otherwise unrelated group of talented salespeople; a marketing team put together by KC, a shallow spearheader played by (baseball glove-faced) Lauren Hutton. They're set up in a suburb in order to push a multitude of products on their surrounding population. It's astounding how many times something like this happens, a character mentioning a product, and it feels as natural as incidental dialogue would otherwise be. It makes me feel like I should listen harder when people are talking about store-bought goods. Also, it makes my own bullshit that much easier to see through.
The statements made about consumerism and desire are fairly scathing, painting everyone in a harsh light. Within the darkly comedic universe, The Joneses turns a sly eye to farce and focuses on purely impulsive decisions made by the characters; in doing this, it is successful. It's not hilarious, but all the actors nail the moments. Cole and Headly steal every scene as a distant couple inclined to hock make-up supplies and keep up appearances. So, I'm thinking a different story could have been told, keeping with the black humor.
Instead, the tone drifts from the sardonic to the Sartre. Well, not exactly, but I was alliterating. Our central family seeks to thrive professionally as a unit, of course, but each also has a deeper need for human connection, which contradicts almost everyone else's need for material shit. Steve wants Kate, and Kate might want Steve if Steve can get her a promotion. Jenn wants sex. Mick wants whatever. Both the "kids" form destructive relationships. Redemption seems to escape everyone here. When The Joneses plays to the emotions, it's almost as effective as when it's snarky, but the mood is consistently off-kilter. First I'm laughing at a character's pain, and then a score cue or a fade-out will make me second-guess my instinct. Do I feel bad for these people? Do I love them?
It's enough to cause that certain amount of unnecessary discomfort, and it hurts the film as a whole. But certain scenes, out of context, can definitely cause a chuckle and will stand out. The single darkest moment in the movie is sublime, and deserves to be a wall poster that I can order online.
Much of first-feature director Derek Borte's work in this film is more than adequate. The camera is always in motion, catching characters in their private moments, and Duchovny and Moore are impressive in their silences. Demi Moore should do more indie roles and hone that. I can't separate Duchovny's roles from the actor, nor from each other. He could be playing the same character for the entire span of his career. That's fine with me. He's gotten better with age. And dammit if Gary Cole shouldn't be in every other movie, and every fourth one should be a really good one. Hollingsworth and Heard graze the surface until later on, when their characters are allowed more of the story, and I commend their chops. The actors that appear in the scenes with the kids are more worthy than the adult ones.
I think I started that by talking about the direction. I'll give Borte all the credit in the world for making me want fast cars and bigger TVs and a better golf swing and alcohol in a pouch. Everything looks idyllic, and when I walk outside, I wish that's what I'd see. That's a thinly veiled desire to be rich. I think Borte's decisions to take the movie into terrible places were great ones, upping the ante with appropriate timing.
Dramadies are the ones with only one hump right? Dromedaries, right. Anyway, this movie has a few humps in it, but it rides smoother than movies with similar aims. It can be faulted for scenes that don't matter early on, or for the emotional teeter-tottering, but I'll have no trouble watching this again in a year or so. Lord knows it'll stay relevant until the end of time.
Unfortunately, this disc is as empty as the film's exo-cast. There are just two deleted scenes. One includes Steve's interview scenes, which are referenced in the film itself. It's quite humorous as Steve tries to understand what this job will entail. The second scene is one of Steve's life teaching golf to kids after the movie's final scenes. Also humorous, it's lighter than the actual ending, so I guess that's why it had to go. Bare-bones disc, but meaty-bones feature.
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