Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Robert P. Young


"The Joneses" has its premiere tonight at The Boston International Film Festival. The writers, director and many of the cast to be in attendance. 

Festival info:

What happens when you’ve got the face and the body of a grown-up, but the maturity of a high schooler? Well, you play high school games with adult money. That’s the fun we see in “The Joneses,” a quirky film written by Stacey Cruwys and Chris Tyrrell, and directed by the latter. Unfortunately, while you can bounce back from a schoolyard bloody nose, a ride in the ambulance in posh Georgetown, Massachusetts is usually taking you to the morgue. The cast is headed up by four likable leads, as two married couples: James Shalkoski, Jr. and Amy Ulrich  as Mitch and Ally, and Tony Wright and Cruwys as Paul and Suzanne.

The action kicks off following an embarrassing experience on the reality show home makeover show “Space Invaders.” Each couple house-swaps and renovates the others' basement—and while Mitch and Ally adore the other couple’s work, Suzanne despises—on live television--what they’ve done to her place. Suzanne’s lack of grace earns her and Paul the moniker “the bad couple” by neighbors who recognize them later. From then on, each couple (and they are both bad) does its damnedest to corrupt, terrorize, drive apart, or humiliate the other. Sabotaged credit cards. Changed forwarding addresses. Ruined photographs. Faked internet profiles. It’s all there.

For a dark movie, the cinematography stays a lot in the light. It’s refreshing, then, when director of photography Rajah Samaroo opts for more chiaroscuro in certain scenes when the characters are plotting dastardly deeds. These mainly occur with Mitch, and I was always impressed at how the shadows made his already entertaining portrayal much more complex and sinister. Shalkoski’s got a career as John C. Reilly’s evil younger brother if he wants it.

One particularly adept bit of acting and directing comes about halfway into the film, when we discover that Paul—ironically, the most sympathetic character—has been murdered. The murderer was particularly devious, as it was Ally, who fed her friend seafood that he was allergic to while outwardly professing that she wanted to end the feud. Just before Ally’s confession to the murder, Paul’s widow, Suzanne, was offering to let her friends “inherit” some of Paul’s possessions. Mitch shamelessly gripes at the slim pickings that Suzanne has left them. She leaves, and Ally spills the beans. Shalkoski as Mitch does two wonderful turns on a dime emotionally, going from not much more than a boy complaining about the toys he didn’t get at Christmas, to a concerned husband trying to comfort a worrying wife, to finally a man who knows his wife’s (and his) days are numbered.

This 'comedy-of-manners' film got me thinking about an old double standard—a film with an all-white cast is thought to be “universal,” whereas one with an all-black or all-Asian is thought to be “ethnic” or “target marketed.” It disappointed, but didn’t surprise me, that the world of these couples is apparently melanin-free--but then I realized; 1) People do self-segregate, especially if they have the means to; and 2) If Mitch and Ally and Paul and Suzanne had to interact with “the real world” and all its “big boy problems,” we wouldn’t get a chance to peek into the strange zoo cage of upper-middle class WASP-dom. Thanks for the anthropology lesson, Cruwys and Tyrrell! (And you thought you were just writing about your friends!)

And what a lesson. Only in a world where the right china, cashmere, and an ever-ready pizza-boy are king will death and sex be so meaningless. It matters less, for instance, that Paul has a bout with impotence, than that he can lift more than old Mitch at the gym. His wife says as much. One murder is not enough, and next it is Mitch’s spouse, Ally, that takes the dirt nap. But…is she really dead? Or is it just a vindictive trick on Suzanne’s part, so that, once again, she will not be one-down?

These characters and the storyline grew on me. At first, the soap opera-like lighting and the seemingly banal scenario lulled me into a 'been-there-done-that' mindset. But, Tyrrell was far more cunning and his wit was more mordant than I realized. A cake at a wake shaped like someone’s tombstone? A Halloween costume in which the put-upon housewife is literally served up on a platter? Pardon the pun, but delicious!

Despite the constant need to put up a pleasant façade, these pretty, urbane, white thirty-somethings are festering with unmet desires. Why else would they choose to go on reality TV—the lagoon of the obese, the musically tone-deaf, and the low-class? Nobody really loves them for them—so they seek out love in TV-Land. And if having your flaws revealed on a private date is hell, having them revealed at a national level might just drive you to murder.

The twisting and turning ending redeemed whatever small flaws I saw previously in technical execution—as it was well-choreographed camerawork, acting, and pacing. I hope Tyrrell keeps making pictures like this, but goes even deeper into suburban perversion.  Remember when your parents told you not to talk to strangers? The Joneses are those strangers. Don't listen to Mommy and Daddy. Buck the restraining order and catch it tonight at the Boston International Film Festival.

Film: "The Joneses"
Director: Chris Tyrrell
Film's website: http://www.thejonesesmovie.net
Screening at Boston International Film Festival, May 19th, 2011 http://www.bifilmfestival.com/

Review written by Robert P. Young III
Editor: Rod Webber
Published by Reel Zine
© Reel Zine 2011

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