About two months ago I went on a weeklong road trip through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. I was by myself, so that meant when I wasn’t driving, I was checking to see what was in theaters.
I first saw Hell or High Water in Albuquerque. There was a trailer for a movie called Keeping Up with the Joneses. It looked like such a familiar movie, at least in terms of the presentation, and I gave it no second thought other than thinking “huh, nice cast.” Zack Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot round out the main actors. It even has some supporting actors in Matt Walsh and Maribeth Monroe. The thing that gets me about this movie is that it’s a large American comedy with alleged humor and action and sex appeal.
You have a comedy movie star in Galifianakis, a dramatic superstar in Jon Hamm and attractive women in Gadot and Fisher. I don’t want to reduce their roles to just their appearances, but they’re both sexualized within the movie trailer, and when I search “Isla Fisher” on google, the first thing that comes up is “Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot Felt Very Comfortable Kissing Isla Fisher” from TIME Magazine.
You also have Walsh and Monroe as the side characters. They’re a married couple, and both are tv superstars but not movie mainstays. Walsh has been in several tv shows (including Dog Eat Dog with Galifianakis), but he’s most known for Veep. Similarly, Monroe is most well known for her role in Comedy Central’s Workaholics. In the one scene of them in the trailer, they play almost exact versions of their characters in their respective shows. Monroe is controlling and seemingly angry while Walsh is wimpy.
Anyways, this trailer felt like so many other comedy trailers. You have the upbeat music, the large flashy titles, familiar faces and the trifecta of comedy, violence and sex. So why am I writing about it?
Well later that same week I saw a few more movies, and this trailer was there for each of them. In one particular showing, the trailer played twice in a row due to some malevolent, cruel joke from above (or below). Basically I learned to hate this movie based on its loud and obnoxious trailer.
In total I’ve seen this movie trailer at least 6 times in theaters. I watched it again so I could break it down beat by beat, so now I’m at over 7 viewings. It’s been a difficult process.
So this is a breakdown of the movie trailer for Keeping Up with the Joneses. I was curious to analyze how much of the movie is given away in the trailer (a common complaint these days) and what we can learn about what the movie promises we’ll see as well as if it’s even funny.
The first musical component begins at 0:02, and we’re introduced to the Zack’s world (I will use the actor’s names because I don’t know the character names). He works in HR and he organizes a trust fall, but Margaret falls the wrong way. Silly Margaret. The sequence ends at 0:10 when Marge falls, and the music cuts out so you know this was a joke. The music acts as a build up only for the crescendo to be the lack of music and instead the sounds of comical failure.
Next we see the 20th Century Fox logo.
Now the music comes back in but with more guitar.
From 0:13 to 0:18 we get more setup: Isla Fisher is an interior decorator. The second joke occurs at 0:22 when we meet Matt Walsh and Maribeth Monroe, the couple I mentioned earlier. They are Isla’s clients, and they explain what they’re looking for with Isla’s decoration. Part of the joke is that they’re demanding, at least Maribeth is. The real joke is that she wants Matt Walsh to begin peeing standing up after years of complacency and sitting while urinating. So the joke is that he’s not a classic man’s man.
Next we get a title slide: “JEFF AND KAREN HAD A SIMPLE LIFE”
From 0:16 to 0:29 we receive the inciting incident: The new neighbors, the Joneses, move in. Isla and Zack meet the Joneses, so we’ve skipped forward a bit in the story.
The next two title slides are “BUT SOMETHING UNEXPECTED” and “JUST MOVED IN.”
At the 44 second mark we get joke #3: After meeting the Joneses, Zack fawns over how attractive Jon Hamm is. It’s supposed to play on what we as the audience know about Jon Hamm and Zack respectively. Zack often plays outcasts and Hamm plays winners.
This is setting up the male power dynamic: Jon Hamm is suave, attractive and calm and collected while Zack can’t control what he says, and he’s not good under pressure.
Four seconds later they present the first mystery when Isla observes that something is off about the new neighbors. We then see what Isla is referring to. The new couple is “overly accomplished and stylish” which is meant to contrast with Isla and Zack’s lifestyle.
The fact that Isla knows something is “off” simply by the Joneses outward success reveals a desire within her to pursue the mystery. In other words, this quietly establishes that she’s the one who longs for more.
Next we see Jon Hamm taking Zack out to the Cobra Club, some sort of hip club where they serve alcohol in jars with dead snakes. The scene shows that Isla and Zack are friendly with the Joneses, but that they can’t keep up with them. Joke #4, once again marked by the music suddenly cutting out, is when Zack is visibly uncomfortably by the dead snake juice whereas Jon Hamm can handle it.
Next we get the “FROM 20TH CENTURY FOX” title slide, and then we see that Isla is following Gal Gadot. We don’t know why she’s following her, but it’s clear she’s pursuing a mystery and that this means that Isla is the driving force behind her and Zack getting involved. This sets up another power dynamic: Isla wants to get involved and Zack wants to avoid involvement.
Isla runs into Gal, and Gal sexually intimidates her establishing yet another important power dynamic: Isla, like Zack, is out of her element. Joke #5 (music cuts out) is when Isla tells Gal that her “thing” with her husband is to have sex as quick as possible so the kids don’t find out, contrasting with the overt sexuality of Gal and Jon Hamm. This scene also reveals another movie promise to the viewer: There will be comedy and sexuality!
Then we get another title card: “AND THE DIRECTOR SUPERBAD.” That would be Greg Mottola, and here the movie is promising that if you liked Superbad (like a lot of people based on the box office success) then you will definitely like this movie. The funny thing is that this movie is nothing like Superbad, even based only on this trailer.
Next up we see Isla and Zack sneaking around the Joneses house together. So we know that they’re investigating the mystery and they’ve both bought in. In other words, Isla has apparently convinced Zack to come along for the adventure.
We then see how they are out of their depths as Zack mistakenly shoots Isla with a dart. This shows that Zack is a little incompetent and that the Joneses are involved in some spy-type activity. Zack must then carry Isla out of the house, and he accidentally hits her head on the doorframe = joke #6.
But before she passes out completely, she rambles on in her sleepy stupor: “Honey is that you? Momma wants to cuddle.” It’s meant to be funny because Isla is playing a housewife character who is desexualized, and she’s expressing sexual desire. It plays off her exposure to Gal’s sexuality and a clear desire to be more like the Joneses. Once again we know that Isla is the driving force behind them breaking out of their routine.
1:33: Text slide “THIS FALL”
Then a new music track enters. This one is faster and heavier, showing an acceleration in the plot. This is the midpoint of the trailer as we see that the Joneses are definitely hiding something. There are explosions, showing that in addition to comedy and sexuality, this movie promises violence. This is the holy trifecta.
At 1:38, Jon Hamm confronts Zack about trust. This reveals that the Joneses know they’ve been sneaking around, and it again reinforces the power dynamic between Hamm and Zack: that Hamm is in control and Zack cowers in his shadow.
Next we see that the Joneses both have guns trained on Isla and Zack. Now we think that maybe the Joneses are bad. Zack then runs away, leaving his wife alone in danger, but he’s quickly brought back by a warning gunshot. His wife screams at him for leaving her there. This introduces a new dynamic: a possible (but inevitable) rift between the two main characters.
In every movie there are multiple levels of conflict: Societal, personal and internal. In this movie, for Zack’s character, the conflicts are 1) dealing with the Joneses (self-preservation), 2) the conflict now that he’s exposed himself as wimpy to his wife and 3) his desire to become more like Jon Hamm and less like Matt Walsh.
When Zack runs away from his wife, that is joke #7, once more made clear when the music cuts out, telling the audience “this is when you laugh.”
Title Slide: “EVERY COUPLE”
Now Isla and Zack are in the backseat of the Joneses’ car while they are involved in a car chase and shootout. Isla’s phone rings, and it’s her children calling. She must referee a dispute between the children about wanting cookies. Joke #8 is when Zack grabs the phone and screams at them. So we are very sure that Zack is frightened and not at all cool under pressure, unlike Isla who was able to handle the phone call amidst the chaos.
So this moment demonstrates consistency in Zack’s portrayal as a man out of his element, but it demonstrates growth for Isla, showing that she can handle the heat. It also lets us know that at some point Isla and Zack will be on the side of the Joneses. So they are not enemies. This answers the first mystery, but it makes a new mystery: Who are the Joneses fighting?
Title Slide: “NEEDS A LITTLE ACTION”
Now we’re at the 2:05 mark with less than twenty seconds left in the trailer. Isla and Zack are forced to dress up and infiltrate a fancy room of people while wearing a mic. So we know definitively that they team up and that Isla and Zack are now taking some action or at least contributing. Joke #9 is when Zack immediately panics and screams into the mic for help. Yet again we see that Zack can’t handle the pressure.
In this scene as well, we see the couple dressed to the nines, featuring a cameo by Isla Fisher’s chest. This is meant to show how attractive she is (if you didn’t already realize it) and to equate her to Gal Gadot, playing off their first encounter in a dressing room. So it’s a realization of at least one of Isla’s dreams to break out of their tired routine.
At 2:14 we get the title: “KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES”
Lastly we see a barrage of gunfire, promising a climax full of action and thrills. We then get joke #10 as Zack tries to escape the gunfire by jumping through a window, but he simply bounces against it and crashes to the floor. So this does remind us that he’s a frightened dude, but it also serves to punish him for his missteps earlier in the trailer. We see a consequence of his panicky nature and a sort of payoff for the damage he inflicted on Isla: he shot her with a dart by mistake, he accidentally hit her head on the doorframe and he ran from the Joneses, leaving her in danger.
The final line is Isla saying “We don’t get out very often so we really like to make the most of it.”
So here is my speculation on what the story is about and where it will go:
The Joneses are undercover agents of some sort who move into the neighborhood for a reason. They’re trying to stop someone or something, and while it might appear to be a large organization of criminals, it will turn out to involve or lead to Maribeth and Matt, the couple we meet very briefly early in the trailer. It will play off of our expectations of who they are, and it will show that every couple has another side. The Joneses “other side” is that they’re spies, and the Maribeth/Matt duo have a dark side, and Isla/Zack are only just now discovering their other side.
The Joneses get Isla/Zack involved because they have a connection to Maribeth/Matt through Isla’s interior decorating business. I’m guessing there will be a scene in which she must use her interior design skills as part of the spy mission.
Zack’s journey is to become more confident and aggressive. Early in the movie we might see him get picked on and just deal with it because he’s not an aggressive or even assertive person. By the end he will become more of an alpha dog, perhaps putting the person who picked on him in his place. You can draw a triangle between Jon Hamm, Zack and Matt Walsh. The spectrum is Matt Walsh at 0 and Jon Hamm at 10, and Zack must find out where he falls within that lineup.
But the story will change when he learns that Matt Walsh does indeed have a dark side and is involved in the criminal activity that necessitates the Joneses’ involvement. Near the end of act 2, Zack will have to re-evaluate his desire to be like Jon and less like Matt. He’ll realize he should be his own man. Or something like that, I’m not entirely sure.
It’s definitely set up to be mostly Zack’s story, as we know Isla has a firm desire to be like Gal Gadot. It’s also clear that she will become more like Gal, so what’s her journey? At the very least there will be conflict within their marriage, or maybe Isla learns that Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot aren’t really in love. Either they were and are having marital troubles (that Isla can assist them with) or they were never in love, instead they were just assigned to be together by whatever spy organization they’re a part of. Maybe Gal wants to be more like Isla. She might want to settle down and have children, but that’s not a life her line of work affords her. This is where Isla will step in and realize her life is actually pretty cool as it is, and she can offer some help to Gal, thus putting them on the same level in terms of power.
That is all to say that though they go out go their way to find power, they will realize that their own lives can be empowering as they are.
Dammit, I might have to see this movie now just to see how right or wrong my predictions are.