REVIEW: Unpleasant 'The Joneses' Treats Flyover America Like Morons

Pity the poor American consumer. Evidently, a little charm and a winning smile are enough to sell them anything. They voted for Obama after all, although this film probably does not have that example in mind. It is those nefarious guerrilla marketers fleecing unsophisticated suburbanites that are supposed to stir our moral indignation in Derrick Borte’s The Joneses, which opens today in New York.


Steve Jones is not really Steve Jones. He is a former car salesman hired by a shadowy marketing company to pose as the father in a Potemkin model family pushing high-end consumer goods on their unsuspecting neighbors. His lovely wife Kate is really their boss or the slightly sinister sounding “cell” leader. All ridiculously good-looking, the Joneses (Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Pineapple Express’s Amber Heard, and a dude from a cancelled CW show) effortlessly bedazzle those dumb, hardworking rubes. Before they know it, they are buying ugly track suits and sports cars they cannot afford because of the “ripple effects” generated by the Joneses’ extremely unsubtle product placement.

Therein lays the greatest problem with The Joneses. While it unequivocally reproaches the supposedly predatory capitalism practiced by the phony family, it simply drips with contempt their hapless targets. This is personified with excruciating clarity by the Joneses’ Mertzes: Larry and Summer, the couple next door. Though he supposedly owns his own business, he is a classic hen-pecked husband, nauseatingly ineffectual in every way. Summer is an equally unsympathetic figure, obsessed with her motivational tapes and her Mary Kaye-like cosmetics sales program. Sure, the Joneses wreck havoc on their lives, but it seems like the film can hardly blame them for taking advantage of such easy marks.

Of course, it is hardly shocking when the Joneses’ neighbors start having economic problems, since nobody in this film ever seems to work. Instead, they spend all their time on the golf course or at the spa. When asked what he does for a living, Steve Jones replies “a little of this, a little of that, but mainly just keeping my wife happy.” This would arouse plenty of suspicion in Middle America, but everyone in the Joneses accepts it, no questions asked.

Indeed, the filmmakers seem to have little or no familiarity with “flyover country.” Predictably, the Joneses’ predominantly white upper-middle class neighborhood is presented as an intolerant enclave of conformity. To emphasize the point, when the gay fake son Mick comes on to the wrong guy at a party, he naturally gets a beating rather than a firm but polite rejection. As a result, Duchovny’s constant moral agonizing seems hollow and misplaced. Frankly, had the audience been encouraged to root for the Joneses to make their nonsensical sales targets, the film might have worked better.

Obviously, Moore and Duchovny make an attractive couple. To be fair, as they evolve from coworkers to tentative lovers, they demonstrate enough chemistry to suggest a straight-up rom-com might be worth exploring for them. Unfortunately, they are squandered in a thoroughly unbelievable, frequently unpleasant film.

Sure, the plot is predictable and the characterization is problematic, but the Joneses’ faulty premise is its Achilles heel. It suggests American consumers are inherently irrational and utterly immune to economic incentives. Yet, it is flatly contradicted by hundreds of years of economic history, including the predictable drop in demand that always follows tax increases levied on luxury goods, shocking absolutely no one except perhaps a stray filmmaker here and there. The truth is average Americans are decidedly rational. It is The Joneses that could use an infusion of common sense. It opens today (4/16) in New York at the Chelsea Clearview.


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