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The Joneses

Year: 2009
Production Co: Echo Lake Productions
Director: Derek Borte
Producer: Derek Borte
Writer: Derek Borte/Randy Dinzler
Cast: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Lauren Hutton

Was this a social critique in search of a story, the other way around, or were both aspects present enough to entertain and make you think, as the writer and director no doubt hoped?

The answer's somewhere in between. The comment about the insidious nature of (as it's called in the script) stealth marketing feels like it's as explored as deeply as it can be given the circumstances of the story, but it never feels as scathing as it could, not even when it causes a supporting character to commit suicide in one of the genuinely shocking scenes.

And the story of these four professional actor/marketers posing as the perfect family to encourage their neighbours' take-up of new products and aspirations feels like the stakes could have been higher. I'm not sure how it would have been achieved any more than they managed here, but if both the critique and the plot had been amped up it might have been a near-perfect film.

I realise I gave away a spoiler above, but the film doesn't waste any time setting up the premise. When the 'daughter' (the luscious Heard) sneaks downstairs to get into the bed the 'father' (Duchovny) sleeps in alone rather than with his 'wife' (Moore) you realise all's not quite right with this family.

Their handler/boss (Hutton) comes in to give them regular reports on their targets, their job to use products of every possible ilk from cars to music to lawn mowers, pretending to be the perfect family and making their material goods all too visible to fool their neighbours into a cycle of never-ending consumption to – as the title suggests – keep up.

But as they reach ever-greater heights of sales success, each of the team finds himself questioning the cost to his soul. To Steve (Duchovny), he can see the trouble next door neighbour Larry (Cole) is getting into trying to buy his way to happiness, especially when he and his fake wife Kate (Moore) develop real feelings for each other.

Daughter Jenn (Heard) is a serial man-eater who mistakes sex for love and threatens to blow the whole illusion with one of her affairs, and son Mick (Hollingsworth) has to keep his true identity secret even while pretending to fall for a neighbourhood punk girl who has no idea his anti-establishment stance is just another sales pitch.

The film takes a serious approach that heightens the inherent sadness when things start to fall apart for everyone in the Jones household (and everyone around them), and despite the weaknesses it's a strong idea and deserves to be seen.

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