When I got the invitation for the press screening of Keeping Up with the Joneses, it was the first time I had ever heard of this movie. This is unusual. It’s like this movie just popped out of thin air. “Hey, here’s a new comedy directed by Greg Mottola – starring Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, and Gal Gadot that seemingly came from nowhere.” All right then!
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Mottola is best known for directing 2007’s smash hit, Superbad and 2009’s critical darling, Adventureland (which is still impossible not to watch if it happens to be on television). It’s somehow been five years since Mottola has directed a theatrical movie. (He did direct Clear History for HBO and directed several episodes of The Newsroom.)
In Keeping Up with the Joneses, Zach Galifianakis plays Jeff Gaffney, a human resources employee at a local tech company. Jeff and his wife, Karen (Isla Fisher), soon become fixated on their new cool and attractive neighbors, Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot). Jeff becomes obsessed because he develops a “man crush” on Tim, while Karen becomes obsessed with her suspicions about some of Tim and Natalie’s unusual behavior. They might be spies!
As it turns out, yes, Tim and Natalie turn out to be secret spies of some sort (it’s never fully explained who they work for), trying to find out information pertaining to the tech company where Jeff works. There are explosions and car chases (actually a pretty good car chase for a movie that’s classified as a “comedy”) and misunderstandings and hijinks. I guess the point of all of this is: this movie exists.
I think Galifianakis is miscast. Galifianakis has made a career on deadpan awkward humor (and he’s very good at that). In Keeping Up with the Joneses, Galifianakis finds himself playing the “everyman” husband and father, suburban dolt character. It doesn’t really work. A couple of times there are moments when he’s “weird,” but it seems so out of place for who Jeff Gaffney is supposed to be. This was a role probably better suited for someone like Galifianakis’ The Hangover co-star Ed Helms. Or maybe someone like Paul Rudd. Hey, I don’t know, they don’t pay me to make these types of decisions, but I do know that Galifianakis in this role seems off.
Look, Keeping Up with the Joneses is pretty much everything you think it will be. Basically one of those movies that you shouldn’t rush out to see, but if you have a couple of hours to kill while your car is getting a tune-up (or whatever), well, here you go. I don’t have much to say about this movie either way! It exists. See it if you want to! But if you don’t want to see it, then don’t. If you look up the word “average studio comedy” in the dictionary it will be the movie poster for Keeping Up with the Joneses.
I should add I’m a big fan of Greg Mottola’s work – and while watching Keeping Up with the Joneses, I couldn’t help but think of the work he did on Adventureland (which he also wrote). I desperately want to see another Greg Mottola movie like Adventureland. And I guess that’s my biggest disappointment with Keeping Up with the Joneses: It feels like it could have been directed by anyone.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.