Trying to create the kind of onscreen rapport necessary to make a comedy work can be a complicated task, especially when half your movie depends on people that are not known as comedic actors.
Keeping Up With The Joneses features two very funny people: Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher as the Gaffney’s. They’re a suburban Atlanta couple living a mundane existence in a suburban neighborhood-- populated by people whose best moments on any given day involve getting more than four likes on the otter video they posted to Facebook.
For a casting director this particular couple is pretty much a gimme. Neurotic, profoundly unfulfilled, and cautious to the point of paranoia, the Gaffney’s are tailor made to suit Galifianakis and Fisher’s specific skill sets. If you can get ‘em it’d be crazy not to use them.
Enter Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot as the titular Joneses, the new and wildly exotic neighbors in the Gaffney’s cul-de-sac dystopia. Both Hamm and Gadot are fine actors, and Hamm has done a few comic turns with his friends on Funny or Die, but neither is known primarily for their comedic abilities. Sometimes this kind of experiment can go sour. Netflix queues everywhere are filled with mediocre comedies populated by straight actors taking a stab at something different (see: De Niro).
In many ways Keeping Up With The Joneses is that kind of nothingburger, a comedy that’ll be chosen on a half-baked whim, then immediately forgotten the moment the credits start to roll. The direction is uninspired, the premise (two wildly mismatched couples bring out the unexpected in each other) is tired, and the script does nothing surprising or interesting.
But then there’s this thing called chemistry.
Sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and that is certainly the case with Keeping Up With The Joneses. Hamm and Gadot are utterly charming throughout and manage to bring something special to the table despite having very little to work with. This is especially true when they are paired off with the Gaffneys. The bits with Galifianakis and Hamm together are inspired, and while Fischer and Gadot only really get one scene together on their own, it is memorable.
Gadot is special. She has the kind of screen presence that goes far beyond her ungodly physical beauty. She reminds me of a young Lauren Bacall in how she simply dominates the frame when she is onscreen. And she has range, so that her relationship with Hamm, despite some really ponderous and obvious dialogue, actually creates some heat.
If nothing else, these four actors carry the film beyond its limitations, and I found myself enjoying something that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stay awake through after the first five minutes. I left the theatre smiling, happy for having spent some time with the Joneses and the Gaffney’s. Given the modest ambitions of Keeping Up With The Joneses, that was more than enough to win me over.