Movie review: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’Movie Review Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Maybe I’m a bit more emotional or sentimental than some, but when I watch people in the movies and on TV react to death, I’m astonished by the lack of, well, sorrow. Filmed funerals often seem to be settings for dramatic meetings of mourners, such as Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne’s prophetic handshake at the end of the pilot for Gotham. Or they can be vehicles for comic discomfort, such as the Altmans’ crass one-liners, droll insults and eyebrow-raising impropriety at their patriarch’s funeral in Shawn Levy’s amusing, but ultimately mediocre new comedy This Is Where I Leave You. Yes, everyone mourns differently and we shouldn’t criticize someone for mourning a loved one incorrectly (since we don’t know their lives … usually), but when mourning becomes a slapstick circus, credibility is strained. I guess I shouldn’t think of This Is Where I Leave You as believable, since it’s a broad comic film, but it needs some dose of reality to do what it wants: give us feelings about love and death, remind us of our family squabbles and create empathy for the Altmans and for every supremely screwed up family on Earth.
And boy, are the Altmans screwy. Jason Bateman plays Judd, who thought he had the perfect wife, job and apartment until he came home to that apartment and found his boss having sex with his wife. Tina Fey is Judd’s sister Wendy, who has a career-obsessed, narcissistic husband and is carrying a blazing torch for her high school boyfriend Horry (Timothy Olyphant), who she ditched after he was brain damaged in a car accident. Their older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) can’t get his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) pregnant; worse, she clearly holds her own torch for her ex-boyfriend Judd. Adam Driver plays the youngest brother Phillip, who can’t hold down a job, has a tendency to get arrested and shows up with a fiancée twice his age (Connie Britton) who had once been his therapist. Jane Fonda plays their mother Hillary, also a therapist and a narcissist, who had written a book about the family that included, among other over-shares, details about her children’s masturbatory habits.
The film follows the family from the funeral through the week of shiva, the Jewish traditional mourning period that includes daily visitation at the family’s home. Hillary tells them that sitting shiva had been their father’s last request. The children are greatly annoyed they have to stay for a week, partly because they don’t get along and partly because they’re not at all religious; their father was an atheist. But they stay for the week and fight. Judd is appalled at his mother’s new, much larger breasts. Wendy insists on revealing Judd’s marital disaster. Judd also runs into an old girlfriend (Rose Byrne) and haphazardly woos her while everyone else’s relationships are run through the ringer. These are all very unhappy people, though they’re also very funny, mostly while being mean or wildly inappropriate.
The casting is impeccable and everyone is good and some are great. Bateman plays the most normal member of the family and he’s expert at being the straight man in insane comedies, though he seems a bit sleepy here. Fey is crass, gloomy and delightful, and I wish she’d had a much bigger role. Driver, basically playing a slightly more socially adept version of his character in HBO’s Girls, is terrifically funny and damaged and uncontrollable, while Fonda does the best work of her recent comeback. She’s gutsy and hilarious. They all deserve better than director Shawn Levy, who has made a successful career with middlebrow, often special effects heavy comedies. He can work with CGI, but he doesn’t have the subtlety or skill to create a believable domestic drama.
This Is Where I Leave You
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Jonathan Tropper
Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver
At your local multiplex
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