The mere idea that a suburban-angst subgenre could exist is enough to cool my cockles. Usually, such movies take the form of high-minded filmmaking, commenting on the hard lives of affluent white people and their two-story houses. They’re also usually directed by Sam Mendes. The Joneses is very much a piece of this, though it shoots for more of a comedic edge than Mendes’ patented dramatic heaviness. This doesn’t keep the film from saying just as little in the same ham-fisted manner.
The movie follows the Joneses, a family who has just moved into a generic upper-middle-class neighborhood. By all accounts, Mr. and Mrs. Jones (David Duchovny and Demi Moore) and their two teenage children are the perfect family, except they’re not actually a family at all. No, they’re a crew of salespeople, paid to infiltrate classy neighborhoods and push products on unsuspecting rich types with an insatiable appetite for consumer goods.
By pretending to be the Joneses, none of the family members have the chance to be real people. They’re never able to have true relationships with each other or their supposed friends in the neighborhood, because they’re playing a role and pushing products. The ultimate point of the film—beyond its obvious anti-consumerist message—becomes how the need for human connection is more important than any product or job. That’s perfectly admirable, but as far as filmmaking goes, it doesn’t make for a very interesting movie—or, for that matter, a very original one, especially when handled in a heavy-handed manner. So many characters are merely sketched in, and so many of the points are staggeringly obvious that there’s never even the illusion of depth. In an attempt to squeeze whatever entertainment they could out of the story, the makers resort to the kind of melodrama that too often borders on the laughable.
Taking this into account, it’s kind of amazing that the movie is as watchable as it is. Duchovny and Moore are personable enough—and Derrick Borte’s direction is workmanlike enough—to raise the film up from the depths to something perfectly perfunctory. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough for a recommendation. Rated R for language, some sexual content, teen drinking and drug use.