A hallmark of a great movie concept is a premise that’s outlandish, but is also just realistic enough to be believable. The Joneses has one of the freshest, most unique story concepts in a movie the likes of which have not been seen in a long time. Audiences will instantly recognize the cleverness, giving rise to certain expectations. Unfortunately, the film won’t quite deliver, instead hobbling itself with unmotivated actions and underdeveloped subplots. The Joneses proves that a great concept can’t carry a film alone.
As potential consumers we are all constantly under siege by marketing campaigns vying for our money. Corporations around the world are constantly and incessantly selling to us wherever we go and wherever we look. As a result, consumers are developing advertising blindness as they fast forward through commercials on their DVRs and train their eyes to read center content only on Web sites. As consumers become less sensitive to advertising, advertisers have to become more aggressive. Enter the Jones family made up of father Steve (David Duchovny), mother Kate (Demi Moore), daughter Jenn (Amber Heard) and son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). They’re seemingly the perfect family unit with amazing tastes and charming personalities. They’re also part of a stealth marketing company that infiltrates communities and convinces the locals to buy specific products by selling lifestyles rather than things. The Joneses quickly become the talk of the town and neighbors do whatever they can to keep up with them – even if it means spending themselves into oblivion.
The Joneses has an incredibly engaging premise with plenty of fertile ground for dark comedy, but unfortunately it just doesn’t come together as well as it should. There are three major facets to the film that drive the story. First, there’s Steve who is new to the family and isn’t quite single-mindedly driven to get sales. As such, he can’t help but feel attracted to Kate as they do the things that happy married couples do. Unfortunately, there’s no real reason for Kate to like him back, but, sure enough, feelings blossom between the two seemingly because the script dictated it. Second, there are the neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly). They’re quickly attracted to the Jones’ lifestyle and find themselves mimicking them. The neighbors should have been the main source for comedy in this film as they attempt to one-up the Joneses not knowing that the fake family has an unlimited bankroll. Unfortunately, the featured neighbors don’t actually do much in the film and by the time the audience is aware of their financial trouble the movie is almost over. Finally, there’s the stealth company itself. If there’s a villain in The Joneses it really should be the soulless corporation whose only concern is the bottom line. Though the writing tried to play up the ugly side with verbiage like “killer instinct” given as advice, the movie doesn’t stay on message and gives the company more humanity than it should have. Perhaps these choices were made to avoid cliché, which is understandable, but sometimes a little cliché can go a long way when it comes to entertainment.
Overall, the rest of the film is executed well and delivers everything audiences expect. There’s something awe inspiring and chilling at watching the company’s moving crews set up the Jones’ home with military precision and then robotically move them out when it’s time to go. Also, audiences will be hard pressed not to see a bit of themselves in the rampant consumerism as the extras in the film start wearing the Jones’ clothes and drive their cars. Viewers will also be surprisingly moved as the Joneses actually start functioning as a real family.
Sadly, there are still a few pitfalls the film doesn’t escape. The acting is only serviceable across the board and some of the characters and subplots are extraneous, like the flamboyant hairdresser or Summer’s cosmetics gig. Also, the actions of a gay character are suspect and appear to be written by a straight person. Finally, a few scenes could have used another take as actors step on each other’s lines and jokes are delivered with poor timing. One awkward scene features a character trying to get into the passenger side of a car only to find the door locked and has to wait for the driver to unlock it, which takes entirely too long.
Ultimately, The Joneses is a wasted opportunity. It has a great concept and a strong cast, but the film just doesn’t do enough with either. There are a few laughs to be had and a few moments that will give pause for thought, but they all pale in comparison to what the film could have been.