Friday, May 21, 2010

The Joneses - *

The Joneses has an intriguing premise: a group of salesmen move into a neighborhood and pose as a perfect family in order to sell the American Dream, which in this case is a bunch of unnecessary and expensive products that companies pay them to endorse. Unfortunately the film is exactly what it is against: a glamorization of consumerism. Like the McDonald's documentary Super Size Me, this film only serves to make its target that much more alluring (I got a Big Mac immediately after seeing Super Size Me). Who wouldn't want a nicer car, or flat-screen televisions in every room, or microwavable pizza rolls that won't make you fat?

Not making the statement it was trying to make would have been okay with me, but in addition to that it is also not exciting or even entertaining in any way, despite the fact that it stars David Duchovny and Gary Cole. For a while Duchovny's presence fooled me into thinking that I liked it, because there are a couple of times when it almost turns into an episode of Californication, but when a half hour went by and he hadn't gotten drunk and slept with a hooker, I realized I was just watching a boring film. Not only does the film not achieve the lofty goal of its premise, but the premise itself detaches the viewer from the reality of anything that is happening on the screen. It's hard to care about characters that have everything, and I'm not even sure if we're supposed to care about them. And when the time comes late in the film for them to make tough decisions, it's hard to distinguish between their emotions and their greed; I wasn't sure if they actually felt affection for anyone, or if they were just trying to make a sale.

In the beginning the film is exactly what it hates: a glorification of American insatiability and in the end it is exactly what I hate: an exercise in unearned heavy-handedness. In the third act Gary Cole, who plays the neighbor, commits suicide by tying himself to one of the many expensive toys that he had been buying throughout the film, a lawnmower with a television fixed above the steering wheel that he couldn't afford, and driving it into a pool. You see, he was drowning in debt, and so he literally drown himself... using the very cause of his debt! Brilliant. This device of making the audience get on-board with something in the beginning, in this case cool products, and then using that something to indict the audience in the end has worked before (watch Lord of War), but after this film instead of feeling guilty, I just pulled out my phone and looked at the BestBuy ad to see if they had any flat-screens on sale.

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