When I went away to summer camp as a kid, I was a little upset that my parents had seen Gladiator without me. How. Dare. They. Looking back, I suppose I should count my blessings that this emotional cinematic experience (the likes of which only come around a few times a decade) was the most exciting thing that happened while I was away. I suppose they could have test-owned a puppy, or vacationed with Disney, or taken a two week contract with the CIA. Now, after all these years, I’m starting to wonder… was Gladiator really the only thing I missed?
For some, the cul-de-sac is the final goal. Get a job, get married, have some kids, move to the cul-de-sac and spend the rest of your days planning block parties. Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) and his wife, Karen (Isla Fisher), are those kinds of people. After emotionally sending their boys off to camp, Jeff and Karen are left with an empty house and an eerie quiet. What to do now? Should we… make popcorn and watch The Good Wife? Just a few days after the kids’ departure, adventure literally comes knocking with the arrival of new neighbours. Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot) look like they walked out of a Banana Republic ad. The Joneses are chic, they’re fit, they match, they drive shiny cars, and they have wicked aim with a shotgun. While Jeff is merely in the market for a new indoor skydiving partner, Karen has a feeling that the Joneses are a little too polished. Her snooping uncovers the mystery of the new neighbours and consequently puts the Gaffneys in a few rather embarrassing situations.
At first, it’s just a spot of jealousy. Karen, whose love life is perpetually in a nearly interrupted state, finds it hard to believe that a couple like the Joneses can exist in the world. And it’s true; they’re rare and exotic. Keeping Up with the Joneses begins with Karen peering through her binoculars and stalking Natalie across the city to uncover her flaws. While Natalie and Tim may be expert stunt drivers, suave conversationalists, devoted lovers, and a little too charming at parties, it turns out their big secret is a chink in their marriage. One or two awkward disagreements and it’s suddenly the Gaffneys who have the upper hand in life.
It’s a good thing that Jeff, the selfless HR guy, is an unqualified therapist and a skilled people person. Jeff never fails to make terrible judgement calls based on his irresistible need to connect with others. When Jeff finds out that Tim, his new friend, is actually using him to access company secrets, Jeff feels more betrayed than frightened. In every situation, Jeff needs a push from Karen to convince him that they don’t have to be the nice, boring couple, and that defusing the bomb will be painless in comparison to not defusing the bomb.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is innocently funny. The Joneses will calmly get the job done while the Gaffneys hysterically flail about in the back seat wishing they didn’t let their kids’ last call from camp go to voicemail. While Jeff will always jump in front of his wife to protect her from danger – real or imaginary – he will do so with a high-pitched, prolonged scream. Karen, meanwhile, tries her best to enjoy the moment. It may be a while before she feels this degree of excitement again. The Gaffneys are like cutlery in a restaurant shootout; not the targets of the fight, not the first choice of weapons, but mostly out of the way bystanders who will forever be traumatized by the raining bullets.
This isn’t quite Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The Joneses play a relatively small role (given they’re the title characters) and are habitually secretive about their jobs and employers, even after the Gaffneys blow their cover. There’s a constant drive to rekindle passion in the Gaffneys’ marriage, and it’s easy to look to the Joneses as the prodigal couple. Still, the rocky level of communication between the Joneses comes off as a brief and slightly forced conflict meant to give the Gaffneys an upper hand as couple of the year. Sure the new neighbours can’t be perfect – it’s a common theme that no one is – but the disagreements between Natalie and Tim are too brief, too sudden, and over too soon. Like a storyline in a birthday card.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is cute and innocent, and it was a fun little 106 minutes, but it’s easily forgettable. It tries to look like a focus on Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s neighbours, but both of these couples are much too high functioning (in very different ways) to really compare to those awkward five or six years of marriage. It’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a very light comedy – the kind with tranquilizer darts, first time lingerie purchases, and exploratory cuisine – but maybe not if you’re looking for a hard-hitting comedy or really laugh-out-loud action. Keeping Up with the Joneses is a stable but kind of unremarkable 6/10.
“I was getting a head start!”
“On your wife?”