Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Keeping up with the Joneses [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Walsh) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (K. Rife) review

Keeping up with the Joneses [2016] (directed by Greg Mottola, screenplay by Michael LeSieur) is a film that I WISH I HAD CAUGHT EARLIER.  I chose to see it only this week (two weeks after its release during a lull in my calendar) because A LOT of the critics (above) DIDN'T PARTICULARLY LIKE IT and SOME EVEN HATED IT).  Yet, as I was watching the film, I realized that as in the case _of a number of other comedies_ about quite _regular people_ -- Katherine Heigl's One for the Money [2012], and Kevin James' Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 [2014] come-to-mind -- listening to the mainstream critics here was DEFINITELY A MISTAKE.

The film begins by introducing us to Jeff and Karen Gaffney (played wonderfully by Zach Galifianakis and Ilsa Fisher respectively) a _nice_ 40-something college educated / "professional" couple bidding goodbye to their two 8-12 yr old boys (we never really see them) who were boarding a bus for a two week "summer camp." They then drive back to their quite nice / spacious home "on a coul de sac" in some random middle-upper-middle class suburb (somewhere near Atlanta apparently).  Their neighbors were all similarly college educated professionals, living in similar quite nice / quite spacious homes.  Zach worked in "human resources" for a nearby defense contractor.  Apparently, a number of his neighbors worked (on the engineering side) of same said defense contractor.  Karen apparently had a degree in interior decorating and, in as much as she could find work, "worked from home."

The nature of Jeff and Karen's jobs is important here because there is an element of "loser" to them.  While most of the employees at Jeff's firm worked on "classified" projects (designing missile components, etc) Jeff had the very "pedestrian" (and _unclassified_) job of keeping these highly competent employees "happy" and "working as a team" (rather than resenting / undermining each other on account of their large but quite bruiseable egos ;-).  Karen, on the other hand, presumably started out an architecture major and came to focus on interior design because one's more likely to find work.  But in the process she's also reduced her horizons from "designing great structures" to "helping to redesign a neighbor's bathroom" (they wanted to "add a urinal" ;-) and _hoping_ that the neighbors would end-up paying her for the job ...

So on the one hand, their lives _were_ tranquil: They "made it", _look_ where they were living.  On the other hand, they're "kinda losers" on a street where the neighbors living in similar houses seemed to be doing _far more exciting things_ and seemed to have the money for "extra frills" (like adding that urinal to a bathroom) even if such "frills" seemed, even from "a step or two away" SOOO STUIUUPID ...

Into this world of soul deadening bbq-fork-in-hand pastel-colored banality enters a new couple, Tim and Natalie Jones (played again wonderfully with the requisite by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot -- they must have had a blast playing their roles ;-), who immediately _don't seem to fit_.  Why?

Well, they buy the house next door to the Gaffneys "with cash."  Part time "real estate agent" neighbor Meg Craverston (played by Maribeth Monroe), for whom and her missile designing husband Dan (played by Matt Walsh) Karen is redesigning the bathroom to add that famous urinal, DOES NOT MIND that the Joneses would be buying their house "with cash" (It saves her work / worry about the sale still possibly falling through).  BUT it's immediately odd Karen (and should be to a fair amount of the film's Viewers).  WHO would do that?  Yes, the house and the neighborhood (with its lovely tranquil coul de sac) was nice.  Yes, the Joneses, who apparently had the money to pay for their quite nice house (on a street of similarly nice houses) with cash, were certainly _free do so_.  BUT ... honestly, "if one had that kind of money ... to buy a house like that on a street like that in cash ... WHY buy a house there?   Consenting to a simple mortgage, a couple like that COULD BUY A HOUSE ANYWHERE ... on an EVEN NICER, MORE INTERESTING STREET in a MORE INTERESTING / EXOTIC PLACE.

Well, of course, the Joneses "have their reason(s)" for buying that house on that street in that way, reasons that become ever clear(er) as the story progresses ... But it's fun to see _the only ones_ to catch the oddity in the Joneses entering into their quite suburban tranquility there "in the coul de sac" would be, "the most average / banal of them all," Karen and Jeff Gaffney.

And it's then interesting to watch what follows.  Because as lowly / pedestrian as Jeff and Karen Gaffney's lives may seem, they actually have a lot to offer the (seemingly) far more interesting / exotic Tim and Natalie.  

Indeed, by the film's end, I have to admit, I JUST LOVED IT ;-).  Everyone matters.  Everyone has something to give to others.  A great, great, initially pedestrian suburban tale ;-).   

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