Deep down spies just really want to make friends
During my rewatch of the film, I kind of get the viewers who gave the film a 36 metascore. It does struggle getting into what it does best (physical comedy and frantic bickering) and it takes awhile for us to get to the first example (reverse trust fall). The teaser could have been lengthened, and an approach something like what J.J. Abrams did with Mission: Impossible III could have helped with the pacing. The editing team forgot the writer’s maxim: show your best stuff first.
The Setup: Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) moves in with his wife, Natalie (Gal Gadot), next door to long-time residents Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) and husband, Jeff (Zach Galifianakis). Karen has a keen eye for detail and thinks there is something amiss with the new additions to their area of quiet suburbia. Her husband waves off her concerns as they haven’t panned out in the past and as a response, just keeps giving her plausible reasons (though sometimes far fetched) to explain something that doesn’t seem right (like citing ‘social media’ as the reason Tim would have dossiers of people Jeff works with in his computer).
The Inciting Incident: MBI’s security guy gets shot while in the process of confirming the bug found at the Gaffney’s. Jeff and Karen reluctantly choose to ride with their new neighbours to escape being shot. I initially thought that it was when Tim and Natalie move to the house next door to our protagonists, then realised that it wouldn’t have really made a difference to the story if Karen waved off her concerns and just lived her life as normal.
I’m actually glad that there are others who feel like Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are great scene partners. Them snooping around at the Joneses and frantically trying to survive a car chase are what make the film skate by with a 6/10. I’m not sure what kind of tweak the story needed to make it easier for Jon and Gal to also be free to bounce off during shared dialogue, or maybe that was a sign that they should have even been grumpier (like Sam Neill in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’)?
- A lady misunderstanding what ‘trust fall’ means (or at least the direction you’re supposed to fall).
- Jeff using socks to avoid fingerprints.
- Jeff telling Karen that the presence of high end tech is likely due to their owners being gamers
- Frantic Jeff trying to bring his wife home without being seen.
- Karen groggily remembering something amusing that happened to her and Jeff during college, but her husband tells her that he hadn’t met her yet.
- We are left to amusingly wonder why windows have to be rolled down (at least partially) during car chases
- Jeff randomly throwing an onion.
Unfortunately, even though Jon and Gal look good together onscreen, it didn’t translate into strong chemistry. I’m not sure if it’s just their characters need reworking because chemistry doesn’t necessarily port between characters. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling had great chemistry in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ but not so much in ‘La La Land’. Another example would be strong chemistry between Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. It didn’t show up at all when they were playing Genevieve Gernier and Greg Gatlin in ‘I Hate Valentine’s Day’. Thankfully, it hasn’t affected the viewing experience enough that I missed out on those silly laughs.
Consistency in tone is what could have helped the film. It struggles to stick to one thing. Is it an ‘M’ comedy like ‘What We Did on Our Holiday’ that barely has any ‘MA’ elements? Or is it an ‘MA’ film hoping to get an ‘M’ rating like ‘Due Date’? It seemed to want to serve both audiences, and the result (also what the the Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara buddy comedy ‘Hot Pursuit’ suffers from) is something that doesn’t have a chance at making it into a masterpiece because of the split loyalties of the team making it. There were two scenes that particularly were ‘MA’ fare (one when Karen ends up speaking to Natalie after initially trailing her and another during the climax), and we are left to wonder if the film would have made it to an 8 if those moments were moved in another film and replaced with the farcical leanings the story thrives well in.
What it did do well though, was setting up Jeff’s workspace (particularly his allowing others to use his computer) which did help in not making it too obvious who we should be suspicious of. I know Homeland barely has any comedy in it, and sometimes I do find it when talked about. Tim and Natalie arguing in front of Jeff and Karen made me wonder if this would be what it would be like if Carrie and Quinn went ahead with their retirement plans: their true selves itching to get out yearning for connection. The comedy truly finds its stride when Karen realises that she’s been duped by Natalie. Then when all hell breaks loose and Carl Pronger (Kevin Dunn) gets assasinated, we’re already clutching our sides from laughing as our protagonists run for cover then into an amusing shouting match with their neighbours.
It’s a shame that no one yet has managed to be able to write with enough understanding of Jon Hamm’s comedic wavelength. I would guess it might involve physical comedy, but not one that involved tripping or falling. A clue would be his gag in that episode from ‘Between Two Ferns’ when he shows up just to find his keys. The reason that bit is funny is that I learned that it was actually more than two years before Jon returned. I guess I find it amusing that Jon would have a moment (maybe he’s reliving it by showing up for that episode?) realising that he left something somewhere. As for Gal Gadot, we already know that the kind of comedy in ‘Wonder Woman’ which is more character driven (a combination of line delivery and reactions) just suits her well.
I’ve discovered that I’m quite the forgiving viewer and don’t mind scenes that are bearable (4/10) as long as the fresh (6/10) ones are delivered well. So, this could be for when you find your mind wandering from time to time or when you need something to play in the background while your folding laundry. It is best experienced if you’re not overly committed to watching, but don’t mind to be pulled into the action. So, yes, if you love ‘Homeland’ as much as I do (maybe even more?) and are yearning for spies acting silly then after give this a good 30 minutes of your time, maybe you’ll find yourself giving this a 6/10 as well.