A rock solid cast is wasted on the cinematic equivalent of disappointing fast food.
What a dream Isla Fisher must be for the casting directors of films like Keeping Up with the Joneses. She is, obviously, a gifted comic actor, but just as important, she is beautiful enough to fulfill the one unbreakable rule of middle of the road, suburban comedy: the schlubby, button down worker drone at the narrative’s center (in this case, an oddly subdued Zach Galifianakis) must have a wife several divisions out of his league.
Fisher and Galifianakis play Karen and Jeff Gaffney, whom we meet seeing their two sons off to camp. They return to their house, briefly consider sex, and then decide to watch TV instead. Their content but dull idyll is punctured when the Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. The pair are impossibly beautiful, strikingly worldly, endlessly charming. Karen, high strung and over solicitous, is suspicious. Jeff, big hearted and credulous, just wants new best friends. Karen’s belief the Joneses are not what they seem turns out to be correct, which will be a spoiler only to those who haven’t seen the poster. Or, like, a movie before.
The Joneses adheres to as many clichés as it can cram into its 105 minutes; it’s premise of a loving but bored couple, revitalised by a touch of adventure; the clunky attempts to jam insight and pathos in amongst the hijinks to give the illusion of personal drama; the dynamic of stress-pot wife and childlike goof husband. And my personal favourite – the wife, having become implicitly asexual over the course of the marriage is forced by the plot to dress sexy, so the husband can look at her and realise what we’ve known all along.
Look, you don’t go to Keeping Up with the Joneses expecting staggering innovation or surgically precise storytelling, any more than you go to McDonald’s expecting Lobster Thermidor. But you do expect a minimum level of care in the assembly.
The Joneses is unforgivably scattershot and listless. Plot threads and character traits are introduced and discarded seemingly at random. Early in the film, we see Jeff – who works in Human Resources, and is supposedly very good at it – telling slightly racist jokes to an Indian colleague. Would Jeff actually do this? Is he actually kind of racist? The film doesn’t much care. Later, there is a decently handled car chase sequence, which on reflection makes almost no sense to the plot. It’s just there because an action comedy needs some action… and so on – nothing seems to have any consequence. The cast are all talented comics, or lovely to look at (or in the case of Hamm and Fisher, both), but the lack of cohesion of the plot leaves them looking aimless.
“Aim for the moon,” goes the old inspirational quote, “even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” Keeping up with the Joneses aims for McDonald’s. It lands in Chicken Treat.
Keeping Up With The Joneses is available in Australian cinemas from October 20
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox