Selling out a premise

Keeping up with The Joneses’ motivations

The Joneses
Ends Thursday, May 20. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

The Joneses seem to be a model family, but there’s something not quite right about them, and Derrick Borte’s simplistically didactic little comedy starts pointing that out before we have even a small chance of developing a few suspicions of our own.

When they move into a posh new suburban neighborhood, Steve and Kate Jones and their two handsome teenaged kids, Mick and Jennifer, are instant stars—rather as if they had arrived fresh from a season of wholesome family shows and commercials on television. And indeed it quickly becomes evident that they are not a real-life family at all but rather four professional marketers playing roles designed to promote various high-end products among their new-found neighbors.

That sets the table for some snarky satire on suburban consumerism, conformist delusion, and manipulative marketing, and yet all that emerges most cogently not through the Joneses, but through Larry and Summer, the childless couple who are their compulsively suggestible neighbors. David Duchovny and Demi Moore are the stars here, but Glenne Headley (Summer) and Gary Cole (Larry) are the most effective purveyors of the film’s satirical jibes.

The Joneses meanwhile go astray in other ways: Steve (Duchovny) begins to feel genuinely attracted toward Kate (Moore), who is the clandestine sales unit’s no-nonsense boss; Jennifer (Amber Heard) starts sneaking off to bed with older men; and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) drifts into a distinctive identity crisis all his own. Steve goes off message in more ways than one, and that changes Borte’s movie into a wanly saccharine romantic comedy and reduces the satire to a handful of sentimentally moralistic platitudes.

What started as a sardonic comedy about selling people a consumerist bill of goods ends by foisting on the audience an equally fatuous bill of goods about emotional fulfillment.