I got to a laugh-out-loud movie yesterday! It may not sound funny, but when their father passes away, and four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens for Shiva, it’s funny.
Looking at the cast of This Is Where I Leave You, it’s easy to get interested about seeing the film. The director of this family dramedy is Shawn Levy, best-known for Night At The Museum and The Internship. Here he’s crafted a witty, wise and hysterical 2 hours of entertainment. This Is Where I Leave You is a rich, bitter, quirky film about love and family that teeters along the thin, broken lines dividing life and death, and comedy and tragedy.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is having the worst year of his life. The last thing he can handle is the death of a family member. But he must go home to attend his father’s wake. Once there, Judd and his siblings, driven Wendy (Tina Fey), stern Paul (Stoll), and quirky Phillip (Driver), must abide by their father’s dying wishes, as relayed by their mom Hilary (Jane Fonda): they are to sit Shiva together for seven days! It proves to be a week in which secrets are revealed, tensions run high, and love sneaks through amidst all the lies and loss.
What keeps the film’s content of tragedy and comedy from tipping into farce are its endearingly real characters. It’s easy to see the wealth of love and resentment that binds the Altman family together. The siblings argue to the point of bloodshed over who will take over their dad’s sporting goods shop, and they tease one another with the poker-sharp memories of years of enforced familiarity. But they also let their guards down around one another: Judd chats out his troubles with his sister Wendy, perched atop a roof; the siblings complain about the loss of privacy stemming from their mom’s best-selling book about their childhoods, but still find themselves turning to her in moments of deepest grief. “You’re idiots,” Wendy declares at one point to her brothers, “But you’re my idiots”, a sentiment that most of us would agree applies to siblings.
The ensemble cast is a joy to watch in action. Bateman anchors the entire film with one of his most sensitive performances yet, but everyone around him gets a chance to shine. Fey, better known as a comedian, mines Wendy’s troubled relationship with Horry for genuine emotional trauma, while Stoll and Driver (as the goof-up brother) round out the Altman quartet with steady, appealing turns as the eldest and youngest brothers who just can’t get along. Fonda is impressive, carrying off the comedy with remarkable grace, while creating a picture of a tough, sexually progressive woman with plenty of depth and love for her children.
Like the fractured, dysfunctional family at its heart, This Is Where I Leave You isn’t perfect. It can be slow at times, and its characters occasionally speak in sound bites. But the film is also a tender, silly, deep, smart and ridiculous look at a family in mourning. It finds the hidden joys and awkward sadness in a group of people who sometimes love more than they like one another. And it serves as a potent reminder that life, happiness, tragedy, and everything in between, keeps happening, often when we least want it to.
This Is Where I Leave You is a movie l think most mothers and adults from large will love, and is a nice change from the generic action movies. Clever writing, realistic characters and some interesting lessons will keep you entertained, if not on the floor with tears of laughter in your eyes. It’s definitely not a high drama movie, but it’s about love for people that matter, even if you forgot who they are. Go see it.