The Joneses focuses on a foursome whose job is to pose as a family in wealthy suburbia in order to sell, to their neighbors, their picture-perfect luxury lifestyle and the accoutrements it requires. This phony stealth “marketing unit” is led by veteran mom Kate (Demi Moore) and includes rookie dad Steve (David Duchovny), slutty daughter Jenn (Amber Heard), and milquetoast son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), all of them employed by KC (Lauren Hutton) to push high-end products to the various demographic groups in which they mingle. They can’t tell anyone what they’re doing, of course. That would defeat the purpose. Instead, they must cultivate “friendships” with the people they’re subtly advertising to. They’re salespeople whose goal is to market themselves, and director Derrick Borte promotes this fantasy with enough electronics-and-dishware fetishism to slyly indict his audience’s own materialist hunger.
In their new ritzy enclave, the Joneses wow the locals and befriend a couple, Larry Symonds (Gary Cole of Office Space) and Summer (Glenne Headly), who desperately need to keep up with their new neighbors and become integral components of their community. Summer is a salesperson, too, the old-school kind who hosts parties to sell a line of beauty products. She’s not very good at it, but she’s so focused on it that she has no time for Larry, who adores her. Larry, following Steve’s lead — Steve and Kate seem so happy! — buys baubles for his wife. But take a closer look at the situation and you’ll start to see something ominous lurking just beneath the surface. It’s only when the Joneses are confronted with the unexpected suicide of Larry that they finally discover who they really are beneath the glossy veneer of consumerism.
Yet lonely and unhappy in their downtime, the false family is so obviously and tamely positioned as embodiments of American consumerism-run-amok and the sham joy derived from purchased things that the film quickly telegraphs the sermon to come. Come it does, via the type of predictable tragedy one can see a country club away, though not before Steve subtly convinces men to buy fancy golf gear, Kate covertly hawks frozen dinners and beauty care products, Jenn and Mick advertise perfume and videogames to the local teens, and an equally foreseeable subplot plays out involving Steve’s desire for a real nuclear family and Kate’s developing feelings for her fake hubby.
As a modern satire of the nouveau riche, The Joneses offers a reflective look at the status seeking upper middle class: their shallow pursuit of the latest gadgets, designer clothes and other goods and shows that although on the surface they may seem successful, they are no better off than the middle or lower class. They are living hand to mouth on a different scale. The only difference is the number zero on the bills going out every month. They fall prey to the same flaws of vanity narcissism and they have the same insecurities about who they are in life, like their neighbor who had all the trappings of wealth on the surface but in the end the self-destruction drove him to suicide. They are all trying to display their lack of real wealth but expensive cars and clothes. When it comes down to it, your real wealth is not what is in your bank account. Feeling wealthy is the cause of your demise, because no matter what you buy, the bill is in the mail and at some point it will come home to roost. Trying to keep up with the Joneses, you can charge $30,000 worth of clothes, but you will still never keep up with them. It says something about society: we have these multinational companies telling us “we designed jeans which cost $200 per pair” even though a pair of Levis cost $50 and the $200 pair does not use four times as much denim. They create an illusion and when the consumer buys it becomes real. It is all about status — you can get as much status as your wallet can afford or at least fake it and hope you make it.
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