The Joneses

1106574_The_JonesesThis 2009 movie saw only limited theatrical release and there’s a reason for that.  Although entertaining, writer/director Derreck Borte has created a project that feels incomplete and contrived.

The idea is that some company has ramped up marketing to the level where they hire good-looking people to pose as an extremely wealthy family, they move these people into a big house in an affluent community, then provide then with products that will make their neighbors so envious they will go out and buy their own.

This particular group of cons is led by Kate Jones (not her real name), played with understated elegance by Demi Moore.  She’s been working the game for a while, while the failed golf pro/used car salesman posing as her husband, Steve Jones (David Duchovny), is a rookie, still learning the ropes.  Their teenage kids, Mick and Jenn (Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard) each have their own problems.  Mick is gay, but still definitely in the closet, while Jenn is oversexed and prefers older men.

The wife and kids do well at the beginning because they know what they’re doing, while Steve stumbles along trying to figure out.  When Kate gives him the tip that he needs to find the right person to endorse the products (she’s gayfriending the local hair stylist), he begins to work on the golf pro at the country club and his numbers begin to skyrocket.

During this time, they are making friends and Steve is trying to pursue a real relationship with Kate, which she is having none of.  That’s the set-up and it’s pretty good.  There’s a lot of great places you can go from there and I was looking forward to several promising developments.

However,  Borte has two serious problems.  First of all, for the romance between Steve and Kate to work, there must be chemistry between Duchovny and Moore—it just never develops.  Moore comes across as a real cold fish and Duchovny’s ah-shucks demeanor never quite rings true.  The second problem is that it doesn’t really develop the comedic possibilities.  Instead, it turns stone cold serious when their neighbor commits suicide because he can’t “keep up with the Joneses.”

A better approach would have been to create a situation that forces them into a sink-or-swim mentality, such as the discovery of Jenn’s affair with a neighbor, something that would force them all to work together to convince the neighbors that they were a real family—and then have them develop into a real family in the process.  Now that would be a good movie to watch!

The bend into seriousness really causes problems.  Matt, for example, has a really interesting girlfriend who doesn’t know he’s gay.  There are all kinds of possibilities in that situation, but Borte chooses to have Matt make a pass at her brother.  While they are driving at high speed, the girl, following them, gets into an accident and ends up in the hospital.  This turn away from comedy  is like committing suicide for a writer.  It’s giving up because you haven’t figured out the right plot.

Enough said.  It’s entertaining.  It’s not long, which is a bonus.  The best recommendation for seeing this movie is for film students to figure out what when wrong and how to solve it.

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