You’re familiar with the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses,” right? Sure you are, I am pretty sure everyone has heard it at one time or another. For those of you who haven’t, it has to do with being envious of what your friends and neighbors have and playing a little one-upsmanship. You know, you see them get a new camera, so you have to get a new camera. You don’t want to fall too far behind on the toy scale, right? Right there we have the premise of the film. Now, that may not sound like much, but believe me it makes for a fascinating film.
The Joneses is a movie that sort of snuck up on me. One week I see a trailer and the next it is in the theater. It arrived with very little fanfare, although I suspect there is hope for it to go wider in coming weeks. Anyway, I arrived at the theater a little excited about the movie. I was a little underwhelmed by the overall feel of said trailer; it seemed to have an interesting idea but the trailer did nothing to truly excite the viewer. Still, I thought it had an interesting cast, and I was hoping that would help pay off my excitement. As I approached the door a sign caught my eye. Production Designer and Producer Kristi Zea was in attendance and would be conducting a brief Q&A session after the film. Very nice.
The film opens with the Jones family driving towards their new home in an affluent gated community and commenting on how they are going to do some damage. The thought is that you would think they are con-artists or thieves of some sort. Of course, if you saw the trailer you know this is not the case, but it is an interesting thought particularly when you learn what they are really doing there. When you learn that you may just think of them as con-artists and thieves again!
The Joneses are not a family so much as they are a family unit made of salesmen and actors, put together because of their ability to blend as a family combined with their ability to sell. It is an interesting idea and one that seems perfectly appropriate in this age of personal branding, selling ourselves (no, not like that), the fact that we all want the latest gadgets (well, many of us).
The family is made up of Kate (Demi Moore) as the mom unit and head of this particular sales cell; Steve (David Duchovny) as father unit and the rookie of the group, having come over from selling cars; Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) is the son unit,and Jenn (Amber Heard) rounds out the group as the sex-addicted daughter unit. They are provided with all the latest in gadgets, toys, clothes, cars, and whatever else might be able to be sold and they go forth into the community.
The Joneses are such a great group of people and are so good at ingratiating themselves with the community that everyone wants to be like them. Now what is the best way to sell the products they are charged with? Selling themselves, of course. It comes across as a little more subtle and personal than someone laying on the hard sell. This is how they live their lives; they gear up with the latest goods and head out to begin a ripple affect among their target demographics. It is the ripple sales that the Joneses are going after and that they are rated on as employees.
As I write about the film, I am quickly realizing that it doesn’t sound all that interesting. Believe me, it really is a fascinating movie. It works on a few levels.
On one level you have the idea of self marketing. This was the first element to really grab me. Being a writer (well, more of someone with an opinion and an outlet), I am try to think of ways to spread the word of me, in essence selling myself as a product to. Part of being able to sell myself is getting people to like me, or to at least have an opinion about me. It is not exactly the same thing as what happens in this movie but there is a definite relationship. Watch the difference between the characters that sell themselves as opposed to those who sell the product they have and how they adapt. The characters are much more underhanded than I can ever be, but it is interesting to watch.
Another level brings up the idea of product placement. This has been a spot of contention among audiences for years. Personally, I tend to prefer actual brands as opposed to generic labels like “Cola” or “Beer.” Granted, sometimes the angles make it apparent they are selling the product in the scene. This movie is simultaneously decrying materialism and promoting the products the Joneses are trying to sell. It is interesting to watch. Products are all over the place.
Besides the self-marketing and product placement, The Joneses still has a human element. Even more surprising is that the human element is effective. Each of the characters has a distinct and believable personality. The central character and heart of the movie resides in David Duchovny’s Steve. He is new to this life and is having a little trouble adjusting. He is also more sensitive to its effects on people. It is fascinating to watch him struggle with the work and the way he is pulled in different directions. It is a very good performance.
The acting is all quite good from all involved. Moore and Duchovny have an interesting chemistry that makes them a fascinating duo to watch. Just as interesting are Glenne Headley and Gary Cole as the couple next door. They have a relationship that is complex and definitely troubled. Seriously, all of the characters have interesting aspects about them as the work affects their lives and their ability to have normal relationships.
Written and directed by first-time director Derrick Borte, the film displays a maturity and focus that I really like. There is not much in the movie that strays away from the story’s focus. It is also interesting to note that the idea was sparked when he learned of real estate companies hiring families to move into homes that are for sale to make them feel more lived in. He took that idea to the next level and it feels like a very believable extension. I have no problem believing something like this could happen, although I am more apt to believe it would be on a smaller scale with fewer products.
Bottomline. This movie is not going to work for everybody, but I found it to be fascinating. It held my attention all the way through and left me thinking about product placement, stealth selling, and my own attempts at gaining readers (as meager as they may be). It is a film that feels right for this moment in time, is well executed, and definitely worth giving some thought to.