Joneses, The (2009)

Rated: R for language, some sexual content, teen drinking and drug use.
Length: 96 minutes
Grade: B,C,A,A=B+
Rotten Tomatoes: 61% favorable, 6.2/10 average
Budget: $10 million
Box Office: $7 million (1.5 U.S., 5.5 Intl.)

Written by: Derrick Borte (First script) and Randy Dinzler (First script)
Directed by: Derrick Borte (First film)
Starring: David Duchovny and Demi Moore
With: Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, and Lauren Hutton

The Joneses are new to town, but they are immediately recognized as the super-elites that everyone wants to be like, especially because of all their amazing clothes, cars, and gadgets. What everyone doesn’t know is that the Joneses are actually a paid set of actors posing as a family to use relationships and status as a way of marketing a wide variety of high-end products to other trendsetters and wealthy people.

Entertainment Value: B
The movie is clearly not a masterpiece of directing or acting. But it’s got such an engaging plot and the script plays out so many of the intriguing angles of the concept that I enjoyed it in spite of the weak acting and production value.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language D
There is alcohol use, several sexual situations, one gay character, a suicide, and mild language. In all honesty, this would easily have been PG-13 if it weren’t for the language, which isn’t all that heavy, but has enough to certainly make it R. I’d say R-15, which is a bit of a shame since the movie raises questions teens really need to be thinking about.

Significant Content: A
Advertising is a morally dubious business, perhaps downright evil. Materialism is dangerous and a false solution to your problems. People are highly susceptible to psychological manipulation based on pride and social coercion to keep up with other people and to prove their worth by their possessions.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
The questions here are so well invited and fitting that thought value alone carries the day here. It’s great grist for discussion.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of the ethics of this form of marketing? In what ways is it similar to and in what ways different from other kinds of advertising and “guerilla” marketing?
~Even though this is clearly a movie intending to raise deep questions about the ethics of advertising, and especially of luxury product advertising, several name brands are used in the film such as Audi, Ethan Allen, UnderArmour, and Yves-St. Laurent. Do you think they wanted to be part of this film? Do you think they paid?
~Does this film end up actually reducing the desire for luxury goods or wind up making the lifestyle they represent seem so appealing that you still want them?
~One of the key tactics used here is manufacturing dissatisfaction. Why is this immoral?
~Another tactic is the manipulation of personal relationships for material profit, without the target’s awareness. How much difference does it make if the person knows this is being done? Why does commerce change relationships?
~In what ways could you say that the Joneses are really just television brought to life? In what ways do we treat our TVs like friends of the family and allow them into our lives? Given the outrage and reaction when they are exposed, why do you think we keep TVs in our circle of friends?
~Which do you think is more weird, people being paid to market clothing to others or people not being paid to wear brand name logos on their shirts which they do voluntarily?
~Larry tries to use gifts he can’t afford to fix his struggling marriage, which leads to disastrous consequences. Discuss the ways in which he was just being a good consumer of modern advertising.
~Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) is precisely this sort of a marketing project, where personal relationships are parleyed into business partnerships or sales opportunities, albeit with more honesty than this. But many such contacts start without the disclosure, and one common tactic in such endeavors is to make friends and meet people so as to sell them things. What do you think of the ethics of this?

Overall Grade: B+
A surprisingly fascinating exploration of the ethics of advertising, almost like a science fiction experiment.

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