A craven exercise in trashed expectations, The Joneses is a movie of two achingly disparate halves. In the first we are treated to a wickedly bleak satire about the empty soul of Western consumerism run amok. The second part does an absurd thematic volte face and becomes just the sort of corporate blancmange that the film from the first half would have satirised.
Typically, it all started so well, with the introduction of the eponymous family as the ideal Middle American success story. The Joneses consist of debonair father Steve (Duchovny), his stylish wife Kate (Moore), and their two perfect children, Jenn (Amber Heard) and Mick (Ben Hollingsworth). When we first meet the Joneses they're already moving into a giant mansion in an anonymous gated community somewhere in rich-ville USA (actual location Georgia). The Joneses drive Audis, wear Nikes, and sport Guccis. They practically breathe brands. And they instantly become the stars of the neighbourhood, dazzling the less glamorous among them with a combination of sexy smiles and limitless consumer durables. For the purpose of narrative clarity, however, the Joneses quickly reveal themselves to each other, and to us, as a fake family of sales people, working for an unnamed corporate marketing giant. In a slightly awkward expository scene, Lauren Hutton pops up as KC, a corporate hatchet woman whose job is to motivate her team and to inform us that the family are "self-marketers" who are flaunting the very idea of themselves and their perfection in order to sell the products that surround that perfection. "If people want you, they'll want what you want!" announces Hutton to her ace recruits. The Joneses then get busy selling. Kate and Steve host phony dinner parties and carefully project an image of the lusty, vibrant marriage, while Jenn and Mick's schoolside cool is equally contrived. In this Moore and Duchovny excel at depicting the kind of smooth shallow charade that might go unnoticed in any daytime TV soap or mainstream romantic comedy, while the movie, from the debut director Borte, delights at seeing just how implicated the American family has become in the DNA of corporate consumerism. But then disaster strikes, both for the characters within the plot and for the entire movie itself. Steve suddenly reveals his softer side, and that he's fallen in love with Kate. This, as KC could have told us, is a break with corporate protocol and threatens to derail the efficacy of the sales machine. Worse still, fake siblings Jenn and Mick undergo PR-busting identity crises. At which point Borte abandons all satirical instincts and asks us, after everything that's happened, to see the beauty in this family after all. Similarly a melodramatic rain-soaked climax, with rousing romantic strings, would have suited another gushier movie. But here the cosy resolutions ultimately validate all those corporate plugs in the first half of the movie, and make the whole thing vaguely unsettling and crass.