Consumerism runs amok in savvy satire ‘The Joneses’
You know “the Joneses” that we’re all supposed to be keeping up with? They actually exist in the eponymously named The Joneses, a sly and sharp black comedy from filmmaker Derrick Borte about consumerism and its consequences. Liberated from the prison of metaphor, they stride onto the screen intact, the coolest new family on the block with all the coolest new stuff that all their neighbors instantly covet. In an already affluent neighborhood, they raise the curve for essential possessions and throw down the gauntlet: let the games begin!
German-born Borte got his start as a graphic designer for surf products for such well-known companies as Billabong and Gotcha. As a director, he cut his teeth making industrial and corporate films and commercials. So he knows a little something about the iconography of stuff in our modern society, and the marketeering that keeps us all salivating after it. You know how it goes: the more you get, the more you want. Happily, as a storyteller, Borte is too savvy to preach while inviting us to consider what we’re willing to lose, or become, to get what we think we want.
In a ritzy gated community somewhere in the suburbs of America, the new Jones family makes quite an impact. Patriarch Steve (David Duchovny) is an easygoing charmer with a killer golf swing who drives the latest purring, hi-tech foreign sports car. Mom Kate (Demi Moore) is a sexy, beautiful woman of considerable leisure who spends most of her time at the salon, organizing parties, or inviting the neighbor women in for a tour of her fabulous house.
Teenagers Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard) are soon the envy of their peers for all their amazing gadgets. His wall-sized digital gaming screen has all the other guys drooling. (One of his new friends tartly observes that his folks must have screwed up big-time to try to placate him with so much stuff.) Jenn, meanwhile, has all the girls at school lining up to sample her lipstick, cosmetics and shoes.
The Joneses seem too good to be true, and therein lies the diabolically clever premise of Borte’s film. Suffice it to say there’s a good reason the Jones family has so many upscale toys—live video camera phones, running shoes, golf clubs, track suits, miraculous frozen hors d’oeuvres, home décor (not to mention a Japanese toilet seat the pops up and plays music the minute you enter the bathroom)—and why they’re so eager to share with their new neighbors.
As their story plays out, Borte spins a smooth satire on a culture where things not only confer status, but are marketed to satisfy other social and emotional cravings as well. A neighbor (Gary Cole) neglected by his insecure wife (Glenne Headly) literally buys into the idea of showering her with expensive gifts in hopes of luring her away from her motivational tapes at bedtime. The verve with which Steve and Kate tease and kiss each other in public reinforces the perverse implication that great sex comes from great stuff— which is, of course, the essence of all marketing. And when the inevitable reckoning comes, Borte doesn’t shrink from showing the ruinous consequences of consumerism, or blaming the bottom-line mentality (coupled with human gullibility) that sells it so relentlessly.
Duchovny is well cast in a role that makes use of both his surface glibness and the sense that there is something decent and redeemable inside; he’s also extremely funny. In the more complex role, Moore nails Kate’s drive and imbues her with hidden vulnerability, although screenwriter Borte never quite makes a credible case for what motivates her. And a still sassy Lauren Hutton is great fun as a chic corporate shark doling out Faustian bargains with ruthless élan.
THE JONESES ★★★
With David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Gary Cole, and Lauren Hutton. Written and directed by Derrick Borte. A Roadside Attractions release. Rated R. 93 minutes.