Currently streaming on Netflix
Rated R for brief nudity, occasional use of the f-bomb, and mild violence
Review contains mild spoilers
This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
The Joneses is a fabulous little movie that I didn’t even hear about until a couple of years ago when it streamed on Netflix for the first time. It stars David Duchovny and Demi Moore, and costars Lauren Hutton. Released in 2009, The Joneses is the perfect blend of comedy, tragedy, romance and satire. Steve (Duchovny) and Kate (Moore) and their two teenage children (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), move into an affluent, gated community Somewhere in America That Isn’t California. The Joneses appear to be the perfect All-American family when their neighbors Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headley) walk over to meet them. Summer carries a large basket of Robustion skincare and cosmetics line for which she is a “consultant.” (She says affirmations like “I am a powerful saleswoman.” Think of every time you’ve been invited to/attended a Mary Kay, Arbonne or similar party. Summer’s belief that she can affirm her way to success is one of the smaller underlying tragedies of the movie.)
Larry and Summer are amazed by the perfection of Steve and Kate’s house. No moving boxes, no piles of paper, no dirty dishes here. The house is immaculate and spacious with top-of-the-line furniture and the state-of-the-art electronics. Summer says to Larry when they get back to their house, “I would KILL for that dining room set.”
But of course nothing is at it seems and within the first 20 minutes of the movie we realize that the Joneses are in fact, not a family at all. They work for a large international “person-to-person” marketing firm and have sale goals for certain products in certain demographics—Kate takes care of women’s fashions, hair products, upscale convenience foods and jewelry. The teens are person-to-person marketing video games, cell phones, fashions, skateboards and even cars. And Steve (a rookie, this is his first “family” placement) works on golf, beer, cars, sportswear, cigars, and other “man toys.” The heart of this firm’s success is that people are suspicious of advertising messages, except when the message comes from their friends. This Anywhere in America Suburb sees Steve and Kate and their allegedly hot and sexy marriage and their two beautiful teenage children, and wants to be just like them, therefore they want everything the Joneses have. As Steve and Kate’s boss KC (Hutton) says, “If they want you, they will want what you have.”
What I loved about this movie was its utter skewering of consumption-driven capitalism. I am a married 46-year-old woman with two teenage children and I cannot tell you the number of times people in our same income group have tried to engage me in competition about something related to consumption. At the Catholic school my kids attended for many years the moms would list their spring break and winter break trip destinations, talk about how stressful it was to build a new home (or a second home), or about the Yankees game they had “swung by” on the weekend. Underneath this frothing patina, this gross display of wealth, is more often than not, extreme debt, extreme fear, and loneliness. One of the many interesting mirrors in The Joneses is that Larry thinks Steve is having lots of sex because of the gifts he showers on Kate, and Summer and Larry should be having sex because they are married. It isn’t quite clear why Summer consistently spurns Larry—she’s angry but movie viewers don’t know exactly why. Unfulfilled? She feels she bet on the wrong horse (even though they are living in a huge McMansion and Larry seems to still be in love with her)? Sex and power and money are closely entwined in this movie—just like they are in real life. And the irony present in a good majority of the movie is despite appearance, no one is having sex.
Several story arcs culminate in a variety of tragedies, one which is tragi-comic and involves Steve saying to Kate, “This family is fucked up. Where did we go wrong?” And another tragic scene with beautiful cinematography, soundtracked to Nick Urata’s haunting “In My Hands.” This tragedy results in Steve having an attack of conscience about his deceit, which leads to (some) of the characters in the movie realizing, to varying degrees, that all of the stuff in the world doesn’t equal a single good and loving relationship.