Not since American Beauty has such a film really nailed making a distinctly and delicately nuanced point about human behavior. In today’s fake world — fake from otherwise unsalable chicken parts pressed into the meat called chicken nuggets to toilet paper manufacturers cutting the size of the toilet roll down more and more while at the same time jacking up the price — it seems everything is unfortunately subject to much closer scrutiny than in the past. I was born in 1956 and from 15 on grew up near Rushville, Indiana, so I can still remember when the work ethic was strong and people actually believed and helped one another. It was a time of you did and meant what you said. This film brilliantly reflects just how far we have come from that long ago era.
David Duchovny and Demi Moore really shine as Steve and Kate Jones, a couple who move into an upscale community, complete with all the coollest gadgets, toys and cars. They look like such a NICE couple, like the kind you remember from Normal Rockwell paintings, or from the Andy Griffith show in the early 1960s. Just nice, honorable, pleasant people, the kind you’d want to have as your next door neighbors. But things are not as they seem. Without giving away the plot — which is really refreshingly unusual — we soon find that we do indeed need to be skeptical of them. But everyone in their neighborhood is totally taken in, and soon they are all competing with the Joneses to keep up with or even surpass them, with some distastrous and painful results.
Gary Cole, a highly underrated actor — he was fabulous years ago as the convicted killer Jeffrey Macdonald — brings touching tenderness to a role that could merely have served as a plot device. Glenne Headly as his wife is equally great as a woman desperate to make a career of home sales. The scene where they are in bed together is painful to watch, as both actors do a really excellent job of showing a couple who have long since passed the point of emotionally looking together in the same direction.
But the film is really carried by David Duchovny and Demi Moore. Their reaction shots to each other and the way they play off each other is quite breathtaking to watch, as opposed to many of today’s prettier and younger actors who are barely competent. Duchovny has come a long way in my opinion since the pilot of The X-Files. His used car salesman Steve Jones who has fallen into a great money job and yet develops a late-blooming conscience is believable from start to finish. Demi Moore, a really great actress who in my opinion made some bad career choices the the ’90s that held her back for awhile, gives a strong performance as a woman who for the first time is confronting the ethics of what she does for a living and believably goes back and forth about it. Duchovny’s character causes her to think, and the thinking he evokes awakens in her the compassion she never before paid attention to. That is why the scene in which she comforts Amber Heard, the actress who plays her daughter, is both touching and understandable.
Many reviewers in the press seem to think the movie cops out in the ending. I thought it was all tied up too neatly, but the message of redeem yourself before it’s too late I thought was a an excellent one. It seems to me that this film was a rarity in that it asks you to question who you are, rather than what you do or don’t have. In a world of shoot ’em up/crash ’em up/kill ’em up movies that are little more than product placement and/or mindless vapid so-called entertainment, this film makes you THINK. And in my opinion, a film that makes you think is a very good thing.