Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Joneses (2009)

As just about anyone knows, the surest way to infuriate one's new American friends is to be deliberately vague about the source and extent of one's income. So perhaps the falsest note struck in this smart satire on guerrilla marketing's domestic front is the moment when David Duchovny's Steve Jones is allowed to fob the neighbours off with "a bit of this and a bit of that".

This occurs just before the scene where Steve's daughter Jenn attempts to seduce him, thus bringing to a head audience suspicions that there's something not quite right about this perfect American family. They are, it turns out, suburban implants, paid by a marketing company to sell all sorts of shit to their supposedly affluent vecinos via the example of their oh-so-admirable lifestyle.

"That sweater's nice..." volunteered V spontaneously* around the halfway mark. Writer-director Derrick Borte used to work in advertising and is thus unlikely to be a stranger to the ironies involved in his concept: a send up of stealth marketing that is itself a consummate example of the technique.

This has prompted certain critics to accuse The Joneses of trying to have its cake and eat it. Others have insisted that it ought to have been more 'biting', perhaps thinking back to older, less forgiving takes on corporate amorality such as Swimming with Sharks.

I'm not sure that I would necessarily have appreciated The Joneses more if it had been darker. What more do they want? Should it have been more complex, or did it need a bit more blood on the floor? **

The latter would certainly have been appropriate had the movie been set in Guatemala, where keeping up with los Jones often seems to involve an actual war, and where the worst thing that can happen tends towards homicide over suicide.

But in this context the disconcerting proximity of the real and and the fake is itself a matter of interest. (The superb...) Demi Moore and her family 'unit' may be walking placements, but can't help but can't resist the lure of authentic emotion. Left-leaning hacks may find this annoyingly sentimental, but anyone who has actually worked in advertising and PR will recognise the strange bonds that form between people who come together to push products.

I also think the screenplay has taken into account the compromised relationship the vast majority of westerners have with consumerism. We know and admire 'connectors' of one sort or another and usually aspire to being one ourselves within an attainable niche. It's also clear to me that people who take a public stand on the rejection of all forms of consumerism are often as guilty of the psych-crime of narcissism as those who embrace it a little too wholeheartedly.

Would it really have been less jarring to witness Hollywood stars who wear designer gear for free on Oscars night lecturing us on the dangers of looking up to people who prostitute themselves for materialism? (Or in the case of Tito on
Nuestro Mundo, for Kelloggs Cornflakes.)

* She's also interested in sourcing some of those self-making beds they appear to possess. The Jones family has two fake teenage kids but no fake maid. But then how could the household servant have been truly bogus?

**Steve's quip that 'the last one left alive is the one with the most toys' sounds like a strapline for just such a horror-consumer marketing crossover!

Grade: A-

No comments: