By Roger Thomas
“Keeping Up With the Joneses” is one of those films that will not be remembered in a year or so. The DVD or streaming will be available, and those who did not venture out the theatre for a viewing will watch it there. Months later someone will say, “Did you see that movie with John Hamm and Zach Galifianakis where they were neighbors?” And the response will be, “I think so, tell me more about it” or “I don’t recall it.”
So, allow me to tell you about it now. First, the film is better than I thought it would be. I have seen the trailer more than a few times and each time I dismissed it. This is not a full endorsement, but I laughed often and I enjoyed the comedic performances of the four leads: Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher, Zach Galifianakis, and Jon Hamm. Galifianakis had a much more subdued role than his recent performance in “Masterminds.” If you are comparing wacky comedies, neither of these films is a masterpiece, but I laughed at “Joneses” more than I did “Masterminds.”
Another positive on “Joneses” is the fact that it was filmed in Atlanta. I used to live there and the big finale happens in a place I have actually been. These days, I am not sure if the actors were actually there or on a set built to look like the actual building, but watching the film brought back some decades old memories for me.
Going back to the four leads, they are at their best when the four of them are together. There are scenes when each couple is alone with each other, scenes when the two wives are alone together and scenes when the two husbands are without their spouses. Among the scenes where the characters are paired off, there is an amusing lunch scene that involves snakes as part of the meal. Snakes are one of my least favorite things so I found myself laughing and squirming at the same time. Ultimately though, the best laughs come after some significant truths are revealed and the four stars are interacting together.
There are some twists in the film that are amusing and some that are surprising. Other moments that are supposed to surprise do not quite succeed. The twists and the jokes succeed fully about half the time.
When the film opens the Gaffneys (Galifanakis and Fisher) are putting their kids on the bus for summer camp. I understand the necessity of that; once the children are gone the parents have more free time to investigate the Jones, and then ultimately assist them. I did find myself wondering though, if the film could have mined more laughs if the children were present for at least some of the story.
By the way, the use of the family name of Gaffney was a nice surprise for me. Gaffney is the maiden name of my paternal grandmother. You do not hear that name often in film, but when I checked on line, two other films I have seen have characters with the name Gaffney: “Secretariat” and the Best Picture nominee, “Michael Clayton.”
Finally, after the climax, the conclusion of the film offers a glimpse of a possible sequel. There is a lot more that could happen to this group of four. I suppose it will be determined by how much money the film makes in the first weekend. If they do make another film about the Joneses and their neighbors, perhaps the filmmakers will keep what worked and discard the rest. Again, I liked it more than I expected, but I wish I could have liked it more. I will hope that the sequel will be exactly what I want, if there is one.