This is Where I Leave You

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Sitting shiva with a great cast.

The early reviews for this movie haven’t been promising, and that’s not surprising. After all, as critics, we sit in a theatre and see characters climb out of a window to get all contemplative. We watch the black sheep of the family tool around town in his Porsche, without a care in the world. Characters getting stoned in an inappropriate place.

There’s the character that’s shocked to wake up with his sister-in-law in bed next to him wanting to have sex.

We roll our eyes when Jane Fonda plays yet another free spirit, that doesn’t mind saying anything, despite how inappropriate (“Do you realize your father was really well ‘hung’?”)

Yet despite the few missteps, this movie utilizes a great cast and sharp writing.

I was more distracted by Jason Bateman’s character being named Judd Altman. I was thinking of filmmakers Judd Apatow and Robert Altman every time somebody said his name.  He plays a producer at a radio station. Their big talk show is “Man Up” hosted hysterically by the energetic Dax Shephard.

When Bateman leaves work early to surprise his wife with a birthday cake, she’s in bed with a lover she’s had for a year. So when Altman returns for the funeral of his dad, he’s depressed for a few different reasons. When their wacky mom (Jane Fonda) decided they’re going to sit shiva – this surprises the family. You see, their dad was an atheist, and mom was a non-practicing Jew (side note: sitting shiva is a Jewish tradition in which the immediate family has a week-long mourning in the same house, with visitors periodically arriving to express condolences).

Altman is also that guy that’s wound a bit tight. A character we’ve seen Bateman do before, but he’s great at it. Wendy (Tina Fey) is the sister that has her neurotic issues and bad marriage. My favorite new comedic  actor, Adam Driver, plays Phillip. He’s the immature guy that has lots of affairs and is involved in lots of business deals nobody knows much about. He’s also itching to get into the business the father left to his older brother Paul (Corey Stoll).

There are a few side stories and they all work well. One of them involves a childhood crush (Rose Byrne) Altman had. She’s always at the ice skating rink, which means we get to reminisce when we hear Cyndi Lauper or Psychedelic Furs songs in the background.

When we see that Wendy isn’t happy in her marriage, we find out that a neighbor with a brain injury (Tim Olyphant) was the real love of her love. It’s just heartbreaking watching him stare at her.

Paul is also trying to have a baby with his wife, who is played by one of my favorite comedic actresses – Kathryn Hahn. It turns out she also used to date Judd.

All of this is based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel “This is Where I Leave You,” and he was lucky enough to adapt the screenplay.

Director Shawn Levy gave us the disappointing Real Steel, and a lot of mediocre comedies over the years (Night at the Museum, Pink Panther, Date Night, Big Fat Liar, What Happens in Vegas, The Internship, etc.). He nailed it with this, combining all the drama and comedy, in a way that sometimes veers into sitcom territory, but is always touching and enjoyable.

As funny as Tina Fey is, she falters a bit in some of the dramatic moments, but never enough to ruin the picture. When we find out she still seems to have feelings for Olyphant, it should’ve been a bit more powerful than it was.

The writing is clever enough that the lines for Olyphant were perfect. He had a brain injury, but wasn’t slow in the sense you normally might associate for a character like this. He ends up having a few good zingers.

I was also pleasantly surprised with how they wrote Driver’s character. He’s not just a complete f***-up, but has a bit of depth to him.

Even the jokes about Fonda’s breast implants were done in a way that will have the audiences laughing.

This is the type of movie that makes it fun to be a critic. I got to spend a few hours with interesting characters. I laughed, I cried, and more important, when I get that question I get three times a day (“What good movies are out there?)…I can actually recommend one that everybody will like.

This gets 4 stars out of 5 (I had to take ½ a star away for them destroying a perfectly good red, Jaguar XKE).





1 Comment

  • joshboardfox5

    I’ve had two different critics give me a hard time for liking this movie. One of them mentioned it being one of the worst movies of the year, and used one scene as an example. He said to me something along the lines of, “What’s funny about a kid using the potty and then throwing the poo on the father?”
    Well, I agree with him. Even though the audience laughed at that scene, I didn’t think it was very funny. I also think the critic misinterpreted that scene. It wasn’t there for comedy. It was there to show you the characteristic of a certain character. Tina Fey is in an unhappy marriage. Her husband is always on the phone, making business deals (even at the funeral). When their child does this, he’s again on the phone doing business…and he screams at the child and it really shows you some insight into how much of a jerk he is. Everyone else sort of laughs about it, yet he’s screaming at a baby over it. The look on Feys face, let’s you know she’s at wits ends with him.

    I am at a loss for this not getting better reviews. I saw it a second time, and it held up upon that second viewing.

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