In 2009 a film based on the American Dream™ was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. This film, written by Derrick Borte and starring Demi Moore (Indecent Proposal), David Duchovny (X-files), Ben Hollingsworth (Suits) and Amber Heard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane); advertised as a comedy-drama, is a solid representation of modern life. Here I will argue, this film is not a comedy.
We’re going to be getting into some spoiler areas so if you haven’t seen it, and you don’t want to know the details, stop reading now.
As I said, this film is not a comedy, it is a true to life vision of the capitalist society we live in today and it is both horrifying and heart-breaking. The film starts off with this all too perfect family moving into a new house filled with beautiful and expensive new things. From the very beginning it is clear something isn’t normal about this family, but unlike the comedy equivalent film ‘We’re the Millers’, where not only is the reason explained, but it is used for comedy value, when you find out the reason this family is a little bit weird (they aren’t really a family), it’s not really funny. What they are, in actual fact, are employees of an unknown corporation, specially placed into a genuine community, with fake names, fake lives and basically fake everything else, to sell these people stuff. Stuff they don’t want, stuff they don’t need, stuff they only buy because, as the film so wittingly refers to in the title… They want to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.
Do you see something very familiar about this? Not specifically that people move into your neighborhood with fake lives and names to sell you things – although, who knows, maybe Mrs. Morris down the road is secretly working for a huge corporation, trying to sell you cat food or something. The familiarity is that every where, every single day we are bombarded with things. We are constantly being sold products, and here’s the thing, and it’s a shocking revelation to those die-hard consumerists out there, but we don’t really need any of this crap.
Back to the film. So through-out the film, David Duchovny’s character Steve, struggles with the life. First he struggles to make huge sales, at 3% increase when the rest of the fake family are somewhere between 14-20%. He finally gets his sales up but begins to struggle differentiating between this fake life, and real feelings he has towards his fake wife and his boss, Kate (Demi Moore). All the while his fake son, Mick is literally in the closet, as he is expected to pretend to be a ‘perfect’, straight, high school kid that’s just cool enough to push products to every teenager in the area. Let’s not forget his fake daughter Jenn, who is a secret nympho that likes sleeping with older men, especially married ones. With all this going on, they are still presenting this ‘perfect, all-American’ family image, and the worst part is it works. The community around them slowly begin buying products to keep up with this seemingly faultless family.
While the family assimilates, becoming friends with everyone in the community to really solidify that ‘flawless family’ feeling, in a brilliantly cunning business scheme, we are introduced to the near by neighbors, Larry and Summer Symonds, both are endearingly genuine people. Summer’s passion in life is becoming a strong sales woman for a beauty line and Larry’s passion in life is making his wife happy, and you can tell he truly loves her, regardless of the issues they have as a couple. The hardest part about this film, is seeing Summer and Larry fall for the Joneses act, resulting in a terrible debt and eventually, Larry’s suicide. This scene had me in tears.
The reason that particular scene, and subsequently the break-down of the fake family, as Steve realises that this lifestyle is the cause of this heartbreaking event, hits me so hard, is that it really happens. Articles such as this, this and this, are reported regularly in the media, but it appears as if we all know what’s going on, but no one can or wants to do anything about it. I mean, let’s face it, having the biggest TV is far more important right? (Wrong).
People out there are so drawn into this lifestyle. Needing the newest things, the most expensive clothes, the techy-est tech, they find themselves in overwhelming debt and do take their own lives as a result of the pressure. But what can we do? In this day and age, it is incredibly difficult not to be drawn into this idea, this lifestyle that is so conveniently and constantly presented to us. Presented via television, through movies, through music and lets not forget the most prevalent path, through social media. I will admit that even I am drawn in sometimes. I will sit there wanting a new pair of £50 leggings, while I’ve got 40 pairs already (but they’re different you see), or I’ll occasionally cave in to peer pressure, like I did when I took out the contract on my iPhone 6+ because all my friends and my partner had one while I had a perfectly working, but not as flashy, second-hand iPhone 4.
The fact is, that even when you realise how terrible this overtly capitalist society we live in is; when you realise the things you are being sold day in day out, the time you spend working a thankless job for minimal pay, to buy things you think will make you complete (but they never really do), isn’t a great way to live. You still find yourself falling for it, because in this life, right here, right now, what else can you do? If you decide not to work anymore, if you decide you don’t agree with money, consumerism and capitalism; if you have a personal epiphany, that in the grand scheme of life, literally none of these things matter, it isn’t going to change anything.
That’s what Steve learned at the end of the film. That it was all garbage, that had real-world, negative impacts on the lives of others, but there was not a damn-thing he could do to change it. That is why, this film, is not a comedy, but it is a film you should watch.
The Joneses is currently on Netflix in the UK if anyone is interested.