‘The Joneses’: Social satire loses its bite

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:25pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“The Joneses” is at its most intriguing when you’re in the dark about what’s going on: For the first 20 minutes, we have no clue about the intentions of the peculiarly friendly new family that just moved into a deluxe suburban development in Anywhere, U.S.A.

The attitude of these new neighbors is so cheerful yet mysteriously “off,” we might wonder whether we are about to see a horror movie. Which, in a sense, we are.

We note that the Joneses have the slickest, latest, most expensive things. Their clothes, their cars, their toys — everything is strangely top-shelf.

And there’s a good reason for that. As we quickly learn, the Joneses are no ordinary family, nor a family at all.

They are employed in “stealth marketing,” an increasingly popular and definitively creepy kind of advertising. The “married” couple and their two teenage “kids” are being paid to push new, high-end products — but to do it without letting their new friends and neighbors know they’re being manipulated.

This is a potentially rich topic for social satire, which is why it’s disappointing that “The Joneses” director Derrick Borte begins to steer in the direction of a softer kind of drama that will teach the characters about, you know, the emptiness of advertising as a way of life.

For Kate, the matriarch played with customary authority by Demi Moore, this is a job, and her goal is driving up numbers. She hired relative newcomer Steve (David Duchovny) to play her husband, but Steve seems a little too prone to distraction — including an inappropriate interest in his new pretend-wife.

Their hired children (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) have their own dramas to play out, both of which are kind of tired, although rising star Heard (from “Pineapple Express” and “Zombieland”) has a wicked sense of delivery.

The most potentially fruitful subplot involves a next-door couple played by Gary Cole and Glenne Headly, who must keep up with the Joneses even if it means financial ruin.

But even this scenario is weighed down by the movie’s turn from sharp, Stanley Kubrick-like satire toward “American Beauty” territory. The scalpel is replaced by the soft soap.

It’s too bad, because the idea is a good one (and David Duchovny creates an intriguing character, reminding you that this actor is too little seen on the big screen). Everything’s for sale, even neighborliness — a depressing premise that demands the blackest comedy.

Talk to us

More in Life

Head brewer Hollis Wood at Skookum Brewery is leaving Arlington for a job at Ever Grain Brewing in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)
Drink This: Skookum’s head brewer is heading to the East Coast

After 10 years with the Arlington brewery, Hollis Wood will work for Ever Grain Brewing in Pennsylvania.

Seattle Photographer
Celebrate National Pasta Month with fast and easy cacio e pepe

The dish, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” is an upscale Italian version of macaroni and cheese.

Travis Harhai's deep-dish apple crumble pie. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
This award-winning apple crumb pie wowed ‘em at the county fair

The crumb top is what makes it special, says the novice baker who won the blue ribbon at the fair.

Penn Cover Brewery owners, Mitch and Mark Aparicio, at their new Freeland location on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Brewery in the barn: Here’s Whidbey’s newest craft-beer hotspot

Penn Cove Brewing Co. has expanded its operations to a scenic spot on Whidbey Island with views of Holmes Harbor and the Olympic Mountains.

The 2022 Honda CR-V Hybrid has five-passenger seating and comes standard with all-wheel drive. (Manufacturer photo)
2022 Honda CR-V Hybrid is the lineup’s fuel economy leader

The hybrid has the same superior qualities as the gasoline version, but is miles ahead in eco status.

Old dogs like Merlin provide great company, even while snoring. (Jennifer Bardsley)
This old dog of mine: A tribute to my fluffy couch potato

Sleeping has become this poodle’s full-time job. He’ll take five naps a day, in between turns around the yard.

Marriage basics: How to resolve your relationship conflicts

The top five sources of conflict in relationships? Sex, money, children, in-laws and household chores.

Romantic lakeside dining in Varenna.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Lago di Como: Where Italians honeymoon

It’s one of several beautiful lakes in Italy’s northern Alpine region, a tourism mecca for centuries.

Wintergreen adds a pop of red to the garden all winter long. (Getty Images)
Though they’re cold, fall and winter can be colorful seasons too

You have no shortage of choices when it comes to planting for fall and winter interest in the garden.

Most Read