THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
2014, R, 103 mins.
2014, R, 103 mins.
Jason Bateman as Judd Altman / Tina Fey as Wendy Altman / Jane Fonda as Hillary Altman / Adam Driver as Phillip Altman / Rose Byrne as Penny Moore / Corey Stoll as Paul Altman / Kathryn Hahn as Alice Altman / Abigail Spencer as Quinn Altman / Connie Britton as Tracy Sullivan / Dax Shepard as Wade Beaufort / Debra Monk as Linda Callen / Abigail Spencer as Quinn Altman
Directed by Shawn Levy / Written by Jonathan Tropper, based on his book
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU does absolutely nothing different than what the countless other estranged family reunion dramedies have done before.
You know the
type of genre I’m talking about: The one involving cranky and irritable
siblings – all in stages of a respective mid-life crisis – returning to their childhood
home to reconnect with one another and their parents – via a marriage,
funeral, etc. – to eventually sort out and deal with all of their
nagging insecurities with each other and themselves. We’ve
seen this play out in films as far ranging as THE FAMILY STONE to the more
recent AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,
which leaves THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU – right from the gate – feeling
like it’s on autopilot.
he film – based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Trooper, whom
also wrote the screenplay adaptation here – elevates itself over its
more tired and overused genre conventions by the sheer strength of its
wonderfully assembled cast and how well the script manages to develop a
majority of its characters with a surprising depth. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU explores a considerable amount of
narrative terrain and an awfully large number of characters throughout its
running time, but it’s a testament to Trooper’s script that he somehow
manages to navigate through it all and creates some semblance of cohesion
amidst all of the film’s various parts.
Certainly, many elements in the film don’t work all the time
(some of its attempts at broad, farcical comedy fall flat) and some side
characters get marginalized in the process, but there’s a healthy enough
balance overall between comedy and drama here to make this family clan
gathering effort engaging and rarely dull.
film deals with the Altman clan, overseen by the family matriarch Hilary
(Jane Fonda, still looking impossibly radiant as an old geezer), whose
husband has just passed away in Westchester, New York and she now wishes
to bring together her sons and daughters to pay last respects towards him by fulfilling his last wish: they must all sit through
week-long morning ritual for those of the Jewish faith (this is made all
the more peculiar seeing as the father was an atheist). Hilary has always had a tumultuous relationship with her
kids, seeing as she exposed many of their childhood and adolescent
frailties as a child therapist in her world famous parenting guide
“Cradle and All.”
kids do indeed return home for shiva, comprised of the eldest son, Paul
(Corey Stoll); the middle son, Judd (Jason Bateman); the baby of the
family, Phillip (Adam Driver); their sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), and
most of them bring either their respective kids and spouses…and/or a serious
amount of personal baggage. Judd
has just recently discovered that his wife (Abigail Spencer) has been
cheated on him…with his boss. He
sees his return back home to grieve for the loss of his father as a chance
to forget about his marital woes, but he soon discovers that
most of his siblings have their own share of emotional issues that are
brought to the forefront when they all mutually partake in shiva (they're
essentially “grounded” at home for the week, as their mother puts it).
While all of them try to reconnect and reconcile with both the past
and present – without trying to emotionally and, at times, physically tear each other apart – Judd finds some solace in
reconnecting with Penny (Rose Byrne), the proverbial girl that never left
town and still has romantic interests in him.
film’s epicenter is Judd, and Jason Bateman once again – as he has
demonstrated over and over again in a majority of his past film roles –
what an unqualified master he is at the art of blending sardonic deadpan
wit with an understated and soulful melancholy.
Judd is a broken man facing divorce, unemployment, and reconnecting
with a family that's comprised of monumental screw-ups at life in one form or
another. Lesser actors would
have played Judd for broad laughs, but Bateman is a far shrewder performer
for how he manages to evoke a low-key sadness and uncertainty in the
character that helps to humanize and ground him when even the screenplay
sometimes falters. He’s
paired inordinately well with Tina Fey, whose dissatisfied and unhappy
homemaker wife struggles with her own marriage to a workaholic. Her terrific
scenes opposite of Bateman elevate the film far beyond my expectations of
the material, not to mention that she often scores the best laughs of the
film, like when she matter-of-factly tells her mother – after she
lectures her children on the importance of maintaining the family’s Jewish
faith at the funeral – that “we’re sitting on the exact same spot we
put our Christmas tree.”
for the mother herself, Fonda has not had this much fun with a role in
years, and at 76 she still proves that her own sense of playful whimsy has
not left her yet. I also
especially liked Adam Driver’s work as the petulant man-child, family
black sheep Philip; he has a wickedly enjoyable sarcastic quip for nearly
any occasion. The rest of the
cast, though, gets somewhat buried in the performance quartet limelight
that Bateman, Fey, Fonda, and Driver generate.
Many of these side characters – as well as their respective
others – are more or less reduced to simplistic plot devices to
service the needs of the film for comedy or drama.
Phillip’s older (much older) girlfriend (like his mom, also a
therapist) Tracy (Connie Britton) never really figures in as a character
of any importance, and a subplot involving Wendy’s past with a hunky neighbor
that suffers from a brain injury (Timothy Olyphant) never registers with
the heart-tugging sentimentality that it thinks it attains.
And for as much as I adore the infectiously sprightly Rose Byrne in
just about everything lately, her character exists primarily as a
preordained muse to help Judd escape the doldrums of his post-married
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU was directed by Shawn Levy (REAL STEEL, THE PINK PANTHER, and THE INTERNSHIP), which doesn’t inspire huge confidence going in. He sometimes has this annoying habit of undermining moments of genuine tearful drama with egregiously cheap sight gags (many of which involve Fonda’s mother and her new silicone enhanced breast, or even more involving a toilet trained kid that dutifully poops at will in the most inconvenient places). Still, I'll concede that Levy deserves props for generating some truly fine performances amidst the film’s schmaltz, not to mention that he allows the film to breathe freely as a potty-mouthed, hard-R rated comedy of family dysfunction, which is refreshing. Even though THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU hardly reinvents the wheel of its inherent genre, the superlative cast (quarterbacked by the sublimely talented Bateman) gives this otherwise predictable and conventional film an unpredictable – and much needed – dosage of complex dimension and compassion.