When Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate Jones (Demi Moore) move into an affluent gated community with their teenage kids, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard), the four of them are instantly accepted and envied by their neighbors and classmates for everything from their stylish wardrobe to their top-of-the-line electronic accessories to their home's chic interior design. From the outside looking in, the Joneses are a model of picture-perfect, financially secure domestic bliss. In reality, they are elaborate salespeople, professional consumerists whose job it is to be one big product-placement as they sucker those around them into believing that pricey material goods are a shortcut to unending happiness. Steve and Kate are not married, and Mick and Jennnot exactly the high schoolers they are presenting themselves asaren't even their children. How long does it take, though, before real feelings start to seep into one's everyday fictional façade? Is this quartet merely coworkers, or might the roles they are playing be closer to who they really are than they are willing to admit?
The writing-directing debut of Derrick Borte, "The Joneses" is a slick, savvy satire with sparks of refreshing originality. Within a bleak cinematic landscape of dime-store romantic comedies, remakes and 3-D overexposure, that this film's premise hasn't been done a hundred times before is cause enough for celebration. In a world where getting the newest and shiniest of everything is not only a symbol of status, but of one's desire to fit in with the in-crowd, The Joneses are akin to human advertisements. As company head KC (Lauren Hutton) tells Steve, "If people want you, they'll want what you've got." Still a novice, Steve must prove his worth when his initial percentage sales increases prove only minimal. A former car dealer, he's charming and has an eye and ear for the business, but he's not so sure how comfortable he is with an entire life that has become nothing more than a deception. What does this mean for his future, for the authentic relationships he yearns to have? Can he really exist at all if he's playing someone he's not day in and day out?
If Steve is the conscience of the audience, then Kate is the all-business veteran who has shut out her own life for her unorthodox work and makes no bones about letting her fake husband know who's boss. When the glimmers of a romance between Steve and Kate surface against the latter's best judgment, the picture starts to grow more conventional in its plotting. The razor-sharp precision of the first hour, mirroring the cold, plastic transactions that lead to a luscious new purchase, ultimately makes way for some heavy-handed dramatic turns in the third act. It is an intriguing notion that the Joneses unavoidably fall into the roles they're playingwhen Jenn gets her heart broken, it is pseudo-mom Kate who opens her comforting arms for herbut Jenn's overall subplot involving her affair with an older married man and Mick's admittance that he is gay feel like underdeveloped filler. As for the moralizing that goes into a key monologue Steve delivers following an unexpected tragedy in the neighborhood, it is too on-the-nose and predictable to comfortably fit amongst the screenplay's proud sense of individuality.
David Duchovny (2008's "The X-Files: I Want to Believe
") makes for a fine protagonist as Steve Jones, a man with the talent but too much heart to make it in such a cutthroat world, but he's at his best when acting opposite the ravishing Demi Moore (2007's "Mr. Brooks
"). Moore, who seems to be defying the aging process by looking better the older she gets, gives her most impressive and complex performance in over a decade as Kate. Yes, Kate is rigid in her devotion to her profession, but Moore blesses the part with a warmth and regret she doesn't always keep buried. When Steve asks her where she'll be when she grows too old to play the mother in these model family situations, the actress' subtle yet powerful reaction rings bitterly true. As kids Mick and Jenn, newcomer Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard (2009's "The Informers
") have less to do with slighter characters, but are effective when called upon to take center stage. Finally, Gary Cole (2008's "Pineapple Express
") and Glenne Headly (2008's "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
") balance inspired comic energy with sobering hints of loneliness and desperation in their supporting turns as passionless next-door neighbors Larry and Summer.
"The Joneses" looks beautifulthe cinematography by Yaron Orbach takes every advantage of the blue skies, green lawns and spacious architectural triumphs that line the on-location Atlanta neighborhood where it was shotand approaches the loaded subject matter of consumer-driven society and the urge to "have it all" at any cost from a fresh narrative perspective. The writer in first-timer Derrick Borte isn't always as assured as the director in him, but he works it out complete with a gradual tonal shift that introduces a sinister side to the equation. By the end, everyone is guilty in their actionsnot for what they've done, but for what they've bought into. Having come out the other side changed and slightly wiser, how Steve and Kate plan to move forward, and how they come to this life-altering decision, send the proceedings out on an emotionally satisfying note. When The Beatles wrote the lyric, "All you need is love," maybe they were on to something.