Rating: 3 out of 5
“You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself – well, how did I get here?”
Ever heard ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads? Even if you haven’t you must have heard of the euphemism “keeping up with the Joneses.” It refers to looking upon one’s neighbour with social and material envy. It’s something we’re all occasionally guilty of, regardless of what demographic or economic bracket you belong to.
Derrick Borte’s writing and directorial feature debut, slyly entitled The Joneses, draws inspiration from both that song and catchphrase and spins it into a cautionary tale of greed and consumerism that skewers the idea of social mobility into sharp satire.
The Joneses appear to be the picture-perfect family on the surface. They are affluent, good-looking and seem to genuinely care about each other. Steve (David Duchovny) and Kate (Demi Moore) are the happy parents while Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) are their prodigious teenaged progeny.
Upon moving into a posh upscale neighbourhood, The Joneses instantly become the talk of the town and the object of the community’s admiration. They wear the most fashionable clothes, drive the sleekest cars and own the coolest gadgets. They become everyone’s fantasy idea of what a family should be and are consequently emulated by their green-eyed neighbours.
However we soon learn that this fantasy family unit is exactly just that, a fantasy. The Joneses aren’t even related. They’re actually a fake family paid by a marketing company to turn heads and show off luxury products. The scam seems to rely on conspicuous consumption of status goods on an extremely intimate scale and real-life product placement on a very large scale.
Borte has come up with a very intriguing concept and he plays it naturalistically for the most part. The Joneses avoids going over the top with its comedy, ensuring that it stays caustic and doesn’t become caricature. Most satires tend to go to the farcical well too often and while that sort of send-up may draw bigger laughs, it sacrifices the integrity of it message by going too broad.
Everything up till the overly sentimental ending is tonally perfect. The character arcs are organic, the actors play it believably down-to-earth and the thematic undertones aren’t overbearing.
There are only a couple of glaring issues that stand out - first being a contrived feel-good conclusion that seems to undo all the good groundwork done up till then. Secondly, Borte could and should have done a lot more with his fabulous premise.
While tragedy and black humour are inevitably present, Borte’s seems to play it safe and refuses to explore darker territory. As a result, The Joneses lacks the bite that a satire should possess. The film is indeed clever and entertaining but one wishes it could have been more challenging.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.