Look around this page. How many adverts do you see? One at the side, probably, and one at the bottom - sometimes more. But what about this review? Isn't it a form of advert? Positive or negative, it lets you know the film is out there. And when you read reviews, or magazine features, or even the news, you'll come across dozens of casual references to products or services that might just spring to mind the next time you're out shopping.

Once one has worked in marketing, the ubiquity of this sort of thing becomes undeniable. Yet to the average person, it's invisible - even if they, too, dress in clothes with prominent logos and choose name brands over identical supermarket own brand products. Even small children very quickly develop a sense that certain things are cooler than others. Advertisers are constantly competing to find better ways of manipulating this. That's where the Joneses come in.

Copy picture

Steve (David Duchovny) is lean, charismatic, always smiling, a keen golfer who loves making friends. Kate (Demi Moore) is his wife, a charming middle class socialite who makes everyone around her feel special and is always willing to share the secrets of her youthful looks and sophisticated wardrobe. Then there are Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard); friendly, popular teenagers who love discussing the latest cool stuff. The Joneses are marketing a lifestyle. Unfortunately for their aspirational neighbours who actually have to pay for the stuff they want, the price of keeping up can be dangerously high.

On the surface of it this is a shallow, albeit elegant, idea, just like the products it purports to promote (and the many instances of real product placement within it). There isn't really enough substance to stretch the full hour and a half, but the gaps are filled in with glossy montages that perfectly suit the theme. And what really makes it work are the performances. Moore, once famous for the outlandish demands which, she has argued, she made as a means of ensuring her star status in male-dominated Hollywood, is perfectly cast as a career-focused woman enjoying the American dream through the simple expedient of not thinking too much about anybody else. Her performance is expertly fixed, never revealing an undue amount of depth but nevertheless making Kate human. Duchovny, as the newcomer to the team, struggling with his fake husband status and increasingly troubled by the ethics of his job, has never been better - kudos to director Borte for getting him to act, even if, again, it's a fairly limited role. Alongside them, Glenne Headly is wonderful as fragile neighbour Summer, beset by anxiety yet never seeming simply wet; Gary Cole channels Willem Dafoe as the husband who loves her but simply doesn't know how to reach her. They're the perfect victims for this almost incidentally predatory family.

What also contributes to the film's success is its timeliness and the myriad little references and in-jokes that place it in a darker context. We learn that Steve was once a used car salesman in Scottsdale, where America's housing market collapse and consequent recession began. And there's a parallel story here, whereby the Joneses' artificial family inadvertently comes to resemble a real one in its dysfunction as well as its form. The kids may be great sales agents but they're at an age where they often make unwise decisions and don't like being told what to do. Frayed boss Kate comes to resemble a frustrated mother as she loses her authority. Steve slips easily into the paternal role, as he would like to fit into Kate's life as a real husband, but is he falling for a dream that's false for him, too? After all, we are reminded, it's her job to make him feel attracted to her. Even if there is a line she will not cross, marketing has always had something in common with prostitution.

The presence of what is superficially an anti-capitalist film in the multiplexes may be disconcerting - as art, this makes a deliberate joke of itself - but The Joneses is nevertheless an interesting film with more going on than is apparent on the surface.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2010
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A seemingly perfect all-American family move into an aspirational neighbourhood, but is their lifestyle too good to be true?
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Director: Derrick Borte

Writer: Derrick Borte, Randy T Dinzler

Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Glenne Headly

Year: 2009

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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