It’s hard for a modern comedy to get a good review. Perhaps this is because “we don’t make them like we used to,” or “we don’t understand what made the old ones funny.”
A great comedy, like any great film, can be understood be anyone around the planet, speaking any language and coming from any sort of background. The physicality and situational clarity, rather than the witty lines, is what makes the Minions as enjoyable as the Three Stooges.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is by no means a great film, but it knows precisely how to make great comedy. It deals with Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher), a suburban couple with a perfectly standard life. When the new neighbors move in, however, everything they hold dear is upended. The Joneses, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Gal Godot (Wonder Woman), are flawless—and they’re spies, too, sent to uncover the source of top secret information leaks.
Part of what makes it work, like any comedy, is contrast. The straight man with the lunatic. The uptight with the scoundrel. The Joneses seem to have everything figured out, but the Gaffneys can barely keep themselves together, and it works every time. These are physical actors who use their actions rather than their words to make jokes. And if they use words, they use their bodies to complement what’s being said.
I don’t think the plot is of any real consequence here, hence the star count. But you don’t come to comedies for the plot. You see dramas for plots and comedies for moments. And it doesn’t really have to make you laugh, so long as it makes you smile. So long as it’s pleasant, and makes you forget about life for a little while.
It’s really hard these days to make a great comedy film. Maybe it’s always been hard. But Keeping Up with the Joneses taught me that just because it’s not a great film, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. I had a really good time watching this film.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is in theaters now.
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