Movie Review: The Joneses

This take on "stealth marketing" is original - but doesn't quite convince

The Joneses
Cert: 15, 96 mins
Starring: Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Amber Heard, Gary Cole, Ben Hollingsworth

The Joneses sounds like a great film, until you have to watch it. That’s when it becomes a distinctly average one. David Duchovny is married to Demi Moore, and together they are The Joneses, who’ve recently moved to a new neighbourhood with their oh-so-perfect kids (Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard).

Only, they’re not The Joneses at all – they’re a family unit of “stealth marketers”, employed to stroll around town wearing the latest clothes, using the latest gadgets, drinking the latest drinks, and therefore getting all their new friends to do the same. As the tagline could have said: Stealth marketing, scary huh?

And it would be, if any of it made sense. Certainly, there’s a good 20 minutes when this seems an incredibly clever idea for a film – you get to explore the nature of marketing, the inherent dishonesty of advertising in human form, the way that we all, in some ways, become what we do for a living – but pretty soon you realise that, barring the odd scene thrown in the direction of these ideas, this is essentially the cartoon version of what a good film could have been.

Example: Duchovny and Moore invite their neighbours in for a drink, and give one of them (played by Gary Cole) a beer. It’s a Stella, a product The Joneses are marketing. “You’re right!” exclaims Cole as if he’s discovered how to turn metal to gold, “that’s a really good beer!”. It’s a Stella. A Stella! Have you not had a beer of any kind before, Gary? Or any variety of chilled beverage? Because, really, that’s the only explanation for his reaction. And so it goes with every product they flog – from mobile phones to golf clubs to cars to skate boards to – in one inexplicable instance – a particular combo of scarf and lipstick. “What?” you feel like screaming. “You people never knew these things existed before? It’s just a scarf and lipstick, so what if Amber Heard is wearing it?”

I kid you not, most of this is done in montage, and at the end, virtually every girl in the high-school is wearing this same scarf and lipstick due to Amber’s “stealth marketing” campaign (ie wearing it and looking hot). I’m sorry, that’s not stealth marketing, that’s mass hysteria, and trust me, if the advertising companies could bottle that, they would.

And so, the rest of the film – with, predictably, some of the people biting off more than they can chew in buying these products – loses any foothold it had on reality.

It’s all the more frustrating because, just beneath the surface, there’s a very good film here just waiting to get out. You can see it in the moments of mournful regret of Duchovny’s character, a washed-up golf pro who doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life. Or the “son”, and how he’s playing a role in more ways than one. Sadly, the script needed a few more drafts and a more delicate directorial hand to dig them out. As far as products go, The Joneses is just shy of the real deal.

Stuart McGurk

5 out of 10