Sunday, April 18, 2010

Femonomics at the Movies: The Joneses

The Viewer's Angle

The Joneses takes us into the lives of Steve and Kate "Jones," an upper-middle (who are we kidding, upper) class family that literally has it all - the cars, the clothes, the jewelry, the toys. The twist is that this family is actually a stealth marketing unit embedded in the community as taste-makers employed to drive sales of clients' products. I personally enjoyed the movie as fairly light-hearted and mildly thought-provoking, although as Ebert notes in his review, a key flaw is the tone the movie never quite strikes. Is it a romantic comedy or a tragic morality play? It tries to be both, which is perhaps more authentic but makes the narrative jerky and leaves the viewer without resolution.

David Duchovny as Steve and Demi Moore as Kate prove themselves decent actors and do seem made for the role - sex symbols selling a certain type of conspicuously consumptive lifestyle. Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard play their children Mick and Jennifer, and it is quite a stretch to imagine these striking actors in their mid-twenties as high school students. Each of these characters is moderately developed in the film, but a lot more could have been done. The writers hew closely enough to common stereotypes (the nymphomaniac, the washed-up athlete, the too-ambitious single executive) that nothing is particularly provocative, a shame when the concept for the film could have been taken further.

Ultimately, however, The Joneses fails to deliver on its presumed critique of today's church of consumption. Product placement is rampant and shameless (particularly given the supposed themes), with Audi and Skechers making out particularly well. In sum, I watched this film because I had a free ticket that expired soon, and wasn't very tempted by available alternatives (Death at a Funeral and Hot Tub Time Machine really not being my thing). Given such constraints and a strong desire to get out to the movies, I advise seeing it, or if you just want a beautiful people fix.

The Feminist Angle (warning spoilers!)

Behind the camera, this movie is typical of the gender disparity in Hollywood, with a male director and writers. The actually screenplay is somewhat more promising however, as the film easily passes the Bechdel Test, with Moore and her boss (played by Lauren Hutton) talking about work, and everyone talking about products all the time. Moore's and Hutton's characters are also fairly non-traditional depictions of professional women who are good at their jobs and happy, though both are written slightly to the shrew-like and harpy-ish type, respectively. Nonetheless, I think it is interesting that these two women as corporate types actively exploiting the standard American family, and goes against the tired line that women are good in business because they care so much.

Roles are also somewhat skewed in Duchovny's and Moore's working / romantic relationship, as both have similar desires, with Moore slightly more attached to her single life. Unlike many of today's romcoms, Duchovny has to persuade Moore to leave a career at which she is good, and not just for him, but also because it's kind of evil. This to me seems like a more respectful and more real dialog than what we see in the worst of the genre (i.e., The Ugly Truth) where the woman is just so wrong about men and how love works. Nothing too revolutionary here, but definitely nothing to be offended by either.

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