This Is Where I Leave You can be seen as a different sort of modern family tale starring Jason Bateman, Timothy Olyphant, Adam Driver, Corey Stall, Rose Byrne, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum 1, 2 and 3) and adapted for the screen by the Jonathan Tropper, author of the book that the film is based on, is an amusing and sometimes awkward look at family life in the white collar world of the professional.
Levy’s film will most likely not be as popular as it should be. The competition on its opening weekend is stiff. A young adult science fiction/action/fantasy movie and an action thriller will both premiere at the same time and as good as Jason Bateman and co are, this low key comedy will most likely get swept under the cinematic rug.
If this does happen, it will be a shame. The movie tells the story of the dysfunctional brood of therapist/author Hilary Altman (Jane Fonda) whose husband, and her grown children’s father, dies at the beginning of the film. All family along with their various baggage, real and emotional, show up for the funeral and partake in a Shiva.
At the start of the film, Bateman’s character Judd Altman, catches his wife having very noisy sex with his boss. He leaves and while trying to cope with this sudden change in his life Judd’s sister calls to say their father has died. After the family arrive and attend the funeral, they return to the family home and sit Shiva per their father’s last wishes.
In This Is Where I Leave You, the different members of this modern family all have emotional baggage of some sort. All the siblings have “scars” from their therapist mother who wrote a book about raising her children which included embarrassing details about the siblings budding sexuality as they were growing up.
Bateman proves yet again that he is a dab hand at deft comedy and his “play it safe” character is interesting, more so once he realises some home truths pointed out by his sister Wendy played by Tina Fey. The comic actress does a great job as the interfering sister who irritates a bit more than she helps.
Corey Stoll and Adam Driver as brothers Paul and Phillip, together with Judd, make up an entertaining triangle of brothers who fight and squabble at the drop of a hat. Paul is the most serious, Phillip is the baby and “the screw-up” and Judd is the one who walks down the middle of the road.
The film features a subplot between Timothy Olyphant’s character Horry Callen and Wendy Altman. A vague backstory hints at an accident which leaves him brain damaged but able to function almost normally. This particular thread feels the most poignant along with the “girl left behind” story of Penny Moore (played with a wonderfully quirky air by Rose Byrne).
Dax Shepard is Wade Beaufort, Judd’s boss and the man sleeping with his wife, Quinn Altman played by Abigail Spencer. The dialogue is low-key witty and does have some lovely moments. One line uttered by Penny while she and Judd lay on a ice rink staring at the ceiling, is “anything happens to people all the time.” Watching the scene makes this particular piece of conversation seem as brilliant as it is telling.
Connie Britton as Phillip’s older girlfriend makes the best of her small role as does Kathryn Hahn as older brother Paul’s wife who is desperate to have a child. Olyphant plays his part with a calm dreamlike persistence that is poignant and at times amusing. A nice change for this popular actor whose roles are generally more physical.
The film moves well through its paces although the sexual content and the idea of a mother sharing her children’s pubescent journey of sexual discovery with the world feels forced. Just as some of the conversation where Mother Altman, played by Fonda, talks about missing her husband’s penis and his virility during the Shiva.
This Is Where I Leave You may feel like a different sort of modern family tale with Jason Bateman and crew playing a dysfunctional family bonding over their father’s death, but it is much more than that. It is about life, the lies we tell ourselves and the acceptance of things that are too hard to contemplate changing. The film could also be saying that family ties remain no matter how much they are stretched and frayed by the battering of reality. The movie opens on September 19 and is good enough to elicit tears as well as chuckles a nice change from the more action oriented films on hand for the weekend. Sadly, it is not as funny as it thinks it is but still amusing in parts.
By Michael Smith