A high-concept premise too-tidily comments on its underlying subject matter in The Joneses, which focuses on a foursome whose job is to pose as a family in wealthy suburbia in order to sell, to their neighbors, their picture-perfect luxury lifestyle and the accoutrements it requires. This phony “unit” is led by veteran mom Kate (Demi Moore) and includes rookie dad Steve (David Duchovny), slutty daughter Jenn (Amber Heard), and milquetoast son Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), all of them employed by KC (Lauren Hutton) to push high-end products to the various demographic groups in which they mingle. They’re salespeople whose goal is to market themselves, and director Derrick Borte promotes this fantasy with enough electronics-and-dishware fetishism to slyly indict his audience’s own materialist hunger.
In their new ritzy enclave, the Joneses wow the locals and befriend a couple (Gary Cole and Glenne Headly) who desperately want to, ahem, keep up with their new neighbors. Yet lonely and unhappy in their downtime, the false family is so obviously and tamely positioned as embodiments of American consumerism-run-amok and the sham joy derived from purchased things that the film quickly telegraphs the sermon to come. Come it does, via the type of predictable tragedy one can see a country club away, though not before Steve subtly convinces men to buy fancy golf gear, Kate covertly hawks frozen dinners and beauty care products, Jenn and Mick advertise perfume and video games to the local teens, and an equally foreseeable subplot plays out involving Steve’s desire for a real nuclear family and Kate’s developing feelings for her fake hubby.
Borte allows his various satire-lite narrative threads to play out leisurely and his perfectly cast stars—Moore radiating chilly professional elegance, Duchovny exuding huckster charm complicated by a gnawing conscience—sell the story’s conceit as well as might be expected. But The Joneses is inherently constructed as a standard-issue moral fable about the pitfalls of looking for happiness in material goods and the true, pure bliss found in authentic love and affection. As such, it proves to be the type of film that, if you’ve read the plot synopsis, you’ve in effect already seen.