by Lachlan Anderson
Rated M. Starring Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot. Directed by Greg Mottola.
Last year was definitely a year for spy films; from to MI:5 to Spy and everything in between. The latest spy comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses is a little late to the party, but offers a slight twist on the undercover adventure.
Keeping Up with Joneses introduces us to Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Galifianakis and Fisher) who live a pretty normal life in their picturesque cul-de-sac. They’re just gosh-darn swell folks. But they’re getting a little restless in their relationship after 11 years and with the kids away at camp for the summer. So when a new couple moves across the road they immediately begin to compare their lives. New neighbours The Joneses are seemingly perfect in every way. Beautiful, talented, accomplished, and their marriage appears to be quite alight with romance. Not all is as it seems though. The Joneses are actually spies.
What is, on paper, a pretty simple premise for comedy doesn’t perfectly translate to film in this case. We’ve had a spy couple in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) already, and this film puts us in the neighbour’s shoes. It’s a pretty stock standard comedy, the laughs come pretty much from where you expect them to but they don’t often land particularly well. The leads are pretty good, particularly Fisher and Jon Hamm, who shines with ease as Tim Jones, easily the funniest character. Their performances are undercut by a weak script though. There are a lot less genuinely great laughs than you’d want, and the spy element to the story is predictable to a tee.
The laughs that do land are welcome and highlight the skills of the natural comedic leads. It’s particularly nice to see Galifianakis stepping out into different roles, if only slightly in this one.
The Gaffneys have a pretty great life. Nice house, great neighbours, kids, and they genuinely love each other a lot. Yet they fall so easily into the trap of comparison once the Joneses move in. They feel insufficient in themselves and in their marriage. Even when they discover they’re actually spies, and not so ideal, they are still jealous of the Jones’ lives. In reality though, the spies’ life together is not perfect. They have to maintain a separation from everyone around them. Friendships can’t be formed and their work takes its toll. In fact they’re missing what the Gaffneys have in spades: connection to others. In fact, Jeff is more of the hero than either of the Jones duo, simply because he’s so good at connecting.
It’s worth taking a look at our own lives. What do we covet in the lives of our friends or neighbours? Do we think that maybe the stuff that looks good isn’t actually as good as the simple stuff? Being humble, showing love and patience.
The Verdict: Galifianakis and co. will deliver some genuinely good laughs and quite likable characters but the movie is weighed down by a weak script and a premise that might have fared better last year. Good for a night in on the couch. 2/5
Keeping Up With the Joneses releases in cinemas worldwide from today.