June 2, 2010
Think back to your youth and those small suburban neighborhoods or city communities or even now in this age of technogadgetry. Remember when Mr. Jones got a new car? What did your dad go out and do? He went and got a new car. Of course, then Mr. Jones went out and got an even newer and fancier car which meant every other dad had to go get the newer and fancier car. And what about that 4 foot above ground pool and cedar fence that Mr. Jones put in? How long did it take before every other house on the block had the same thing, only to find that by the time their construction was finished, Mr. Jones had a kidney shaped in-ground pool? And what about Mrs. Jones. Isn’t that the new Prada handbag she’s carrying? Well, just run on over to the local Prada store and you will inevitably find half the neighborhood there buying the same purse. And what about those Jones kids? Gotta love their new I-pad and I-phone combo. Quick! Let’s get over to Best Buy to get one! Ah yes, keeping up with The Joneses. It’s been a way of life going back to the days of the ancient Sumarians and their “indoor” plumbing system. Seems that our very existence is predicated on the ideology that one family sets the standard and appears to “have it all” while the rest of us all want what they want, thus giving rise to free enterprise, commerce, economic growth and bankruptcy. But what if this is all a carefully calculated and engineered plot by the advertising industry to more than subliminally entice us to spend, spend, spend? Enter the creatively fertile mind of writer/director Derrick Borte who very cleverly and satirically combines consumerism and our inherent need to covet with a “fictional” look at predatory stealth marketing of the advertising industry with THE JONESES.
Steve and Kate Jones are the ideal couple. Exceedingly good looking, polished and friendly to a fault, they are idyllic. Driving the latest car, wearing the latest clothes and seeming to “have it all”, they are the epitome of having the best of the best, including the perfect teenaged children, Jenn and Mick. In fact, the Joneses are so perfect one would think they were born in Stepford.
Moving into a new neighborhood is always difficult, but the transition into the community certainly appears easy when you have the newest and nicest of everything. Immediately flocking to welcome the Joneses are neighbors, Larry and Summer Symonds. Bearing gifts consisting of a new cosmetic line Summer is hawking (a la Mary Kay, Tupperware, Amway), the Symonds, who give the air of being top dogs on the block, are themselves bowled over with the gizmos, gadgetry, glitz and glamour of the Joneses. Embracing the Symonds as if they had known them forever, Steve and Kate quickly forge an unbreakable alliance. As they give them the grand tour of the house, brand names roll over the tongue as easily as product placement in a movie. By weeks end, Jenn and Mick have also won over the local high school crowd and it doesn’t take long before we soon see everyone keeping up with THE JONESES as product, after product, after foodstuff, after gem, after car, after gadget, start popping up all over town.
But you know what they say about anything that looks to good to be true, generally is. Stick around because behind closed doors, Steve and Kate are sleeping in separate bedrooms, Jenn and Mick are flippant, rude and disrespectful to their parents, not to mention Kate having an affair with a married man, while ladykiller Mick makes a pass at a guy. And all the pieces of the puzzle start to come together with the arrival of corporate shark, KC, “boss” of Stealth Marketing and the disclosure that the Joneses aren’t really the Joneses at all.
When it comes to the performances, the acting is beyond reproach on all levels starting with David Duchovny and Demi Moore who are perfection. The acting As Steve and Kate Jones, outstanding. You believe them, you trust them, you want to be like them. Moore’s Kate is a powerhouse with an energetic fire to succeed and perform that is contagious. She gives Kate a drive that instills confidence and imitation. Given the premise of a stealth marketing family, one would expect Kate to have a slight level of sleaze or sales patter going, yet Moore brings this neighborly comfort and ease that defies any pre-conceived notion of salesmen, giving depth and dimension to what could have been a one note performance. For Moore, “it was very relatable when I read the script. People send things to us in the hopes that you are seen with it or photographed. That is, in fact, stealth marketing. What was so brilliant in Derrick’s script is that he took what we all could relate to but into this’ just right outside of the box but not so far that you don’t stop and say that’s actually really quite possible.’”
David Duchovny shines as Steve Jones. Long one of my favorite actors, many have often sold him short, not giving him the credit he is due for his exemplary talent. As Steve, he breezes through with an effortless ease and elan that is a joy to watch. Charismatic and affable, Duchovny brings subtle perfection to the role, elevating the wry wit and tone, and personalizing the film with heart. And while his chemistry with Moore is undeniable, particularly as we watch the relationship of Kate and Steve unfold before us, it doesn’t compare to his scenes with Gary Cole. These two should have their own sitcom. They are hysterical. With the dry, cerebral wit of Duchovny patterned against the more flippant silliness of Cole’s Larry, I couldn’t help but think of Martin and Lewis. And even when not paired with Duchovny, Cole steals every scene he is in.
The legendary Lauren Hutton steps in as Stealth Marketing boss KC. Confident, demanding, in control, as KC, Hutton is an ice queen and proud of it. She brings a manipulative edge that catapults the progression of the story and particularly, Duchovny’s Steve. Glenne Headley breathes life into Summer Symonds. The complete opposite of Moore’s Kate, Headley gives Kate a ditzy earthiness that grounds the story in reality. And as the Jones children, Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard more than hold their own against their veteran “parents”, displaying new levels of their own acting talents.
Hollywood finally gets it right with the release of THE JONESES. Neither too early nor too late, THE JONESES is a wake-up call to the economic crisis of our time. Written and directed by first-timer Derrick Borte, THE JONESES is not only slick, sly and witty, but one of the most creative scripts to come along in a long while. Borte’s polished ideologic conceptualization grabs you from the get-go, keeping you entertained and interested not only in the story but in the characters themselves. You like these people, you want to be these people, and while you may start to question the values of consumerism as the story unfolds, like with any good product, you can’t turn your eyes from the screen.
Harkening to the reports and studies of the 1960's on subliminal advertising, Borte brings us into the 21st Century by interweaving every marketing medium and ploy known to mankind (and then some) and topping it off with a basic pyramid scheme design and the now all-too-common, stealth marketing concept. Duchovny identified with the script given that, “We’re all affected and influenced by what we see. We all choose our style from the ether, whatever is out there” while for Hutton, THE JONESES lets us “see where you’re dirty and how it’s gotten onto you and how it’s gotten into all of us. We are more owned by corps than being citizens. More consumers than citizens. That’s what has become important to kids and teenagers.” Sadly, although working with a tightly crafted script, Borte does toss in some basic “mortal” contrivances amongst the characters which, although humanizing, falls short of the scripting excellence that carries the film for the first 40 minutes or so. And although sappy, the emotional climax pays back one hundred fold.
Borte’s pacing is even, ebbing and flowing with the story and characters and Yaron Orbach’s lensing showcases the first rate merchandise. Some of real stars of this film, however, are production designer Kristi Zea, costume designer Renee Erlich Kalfus and set decorator Frank Galline. Zea, no stranger to the opulent and top of the line thanks to “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and the upcoming “Wall Street 2", goes for broke with the lifestyle and merchandising design, including shooting in upscale Atlanta suburbs. Her production design to die for while Galline perfectly apportions each and every individual set to a tee. Kalfus it appears spares no expense with designer “everyday wear” with names like YSL casually tossed about as if second nature. However, were I Kalfus or Demi Moore I would have rethought the YSL leopard print dress which made Moore’s breasts look flat and her butt wide as a house.
Keep up with THE JONESES. They are worth their weight in gold, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Disney, AT&T, fashion, food, wine, in. . . . . .
Steve Jones - David Duchovny
Kate Jones - Demi Moore
Larry Symonds - Gary Cole
Summer Symonds - Glenne Headley
KC - Lauren Hutton
Written and directed by Derrick Borte.