20th Century Fox
Fox is releasing KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES this weekend and it is likely you’re not aware of the action-comedy, given its seemingly invisible advertising campaign. It’s been a very hit-or-miss year for comedies, but as pop culture pushes itself for more diverse depictions of women, Joneses takes a step back into formulaic territory. It’s a fun hour and a half, though you can’t help but feel writer Michael LeSieur and director Greg Mottola were holding back.
The story follows suburbanites Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher), a couple experiencing “empty nest syndrome,” who become obsessed with their impossibly gorgeous new neighbors, the Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) – only to learn their new friends are really covert operatives. It’s a clear, simple premise that should allow for plenty of creative routes and humorous situations but, unfortunately, it falls into tropes we’ve seen too many times before.
20th Century Fox
Let’s look at the positives first. The movie’s greatest strength is Fisher as Karen. She is working overtime in this film as she drives the plot and has to sell jokes we see coming a mile away. Has there ever been a film in which Fisher hasn’t been fantastic, though? Sure, there was an attempt at a starring vehicle in Confessions of a Shopaholic, but that movie’s failings have nothing to do with Fisher. Outside of that she stole the show in Wedding Crashers and walked a fine line between fun, unintelligent party girl and suicidal tendencies in Bachelorette. In Joneses, Karen’s determination to find out what the neighbors are hiding sets up the entire story, and once that information is revealed, Fisher shows incredible ease in adding humor to the big action set pieces.
It is more likely, however, that people will walk away from this movie talking about the bromance between Galifianakis and Hamm’s characters. Jeff desperately wants a friend to go indoor skydiving with and Tim easily fills that void. Much like Fisher, once the action begins the boys’ back-and-forth is at its strongest, especially as they interrogate a mole from Jeff’s company. It’s just too bad this relationship didn’t begin earlier though so that we could see more of this fantastic pairing from the get-go.
Don’t get me wrong: this movie is funny. It just takes about 45 minutes for the story to find its sweet spot when it finally throws some action in with the comedy.
20th Century Fox
So where does the film go wrong? Gadot gets the short end of the stick here as she’s the one playing the straight-man during the film. To be fair, she’s great at it and is still has her moments, but after all the hype around her casting as Wonder Woman (and being the only consistently positively reviewed thing from Batman V. Superman) Joneses was an opportunity to see how far Gadot could stretch herself as an actor. Instead, she plays it straight – albeit, she does so solidly. But there are also those scenes in which she has to stand around in her underwear looking sexy while Fisher’s character feels inferior. Only occasionally is Gadot allowed to bring the humor, but when it happens, she’s great every time.
One of the most problematic aspects of the film is the relationship between Fisher and Gadot. Fisher gets the story moving but the emotional arc really belongs solely to Galifianakis, which leaves Fisher’s character in an awkward spot. She doesn’t get to have the same friendship with Gadot that Galifianakis has with Hamm. Instead, LeSieur’s writing leans into sapphic humor, with Gadot giving Fisher speeches about being sexy and keeping her sex life alive. It’s ridiculous to watch, and not because the scene is funny; Fisher is stunning – wearing a denim mini-skirt for the first chunk of the film while her perfect hair hangs down to her waist like a Disney princess. Yet she’s supposed to come off as frumpy and desexualized. The production team’s only attempt to achieve this is with a button down, flower-print shirt. She’s All That did a better job with just a ponytail and some glasses. Thankfully, Fisher is such a strong performer she sells her lower-status regardless.
If you’re looking for a solid, date-night film, Keeping Up with the Joneses will do the trick. You’ll laugh, you’ll be excited by the action, and you’ll even get a surprise casting reveal to add some unexpected fun to the third act. It’s just too bad that in 2016, a year seemingly defined by new depictions of women in pop culture, the team behind Keeping Up with the Joneses couldn’t find a way to share the wealth of comedy in a unique way.
Running Time 105 minutes
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Emily is a writer and film/television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer