This is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros., R)

film This-is-where-I-leave-you_smIt’s something of a new formula, or at least a new spin on an old formula, but it works. 


film This-is-where-I-leave-you

It seems as if there have been a lot of “adult children under one roof for the first time in years” stories coming around. Most notable is Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums, and what I’d argue is maybe the best of this genre (if not Tenenbaums) is Dash Shaw’s 2008 graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button. Last year, we had August: Osage County on the big screen, which of course was adapted from the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. And in a week, we’re getting The Skeleton Twins, which is already in limited release in other parts of the country.

But really, I like all of this stuff; maybe this is a type of story that I’m a sucker for. As such, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You, about a nominally Jewish family sitting shiva after the patriarch’s death, seems right up my alley. Not to mention it has a great cast, mostly made up of people I know from TV: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll (Russo from House of Cards), Adam Driver, Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio from Parks & Recreation), Abigail Spencer (Sally Draper’s teacher from season three of Mad Men), and Timothy Olyphant. Throw in Jane Fonda and Rose Byrne, and this dramedic ensemble is fairly flawless.

As you can see from that (abbreviated) cast list, This Is Where I Leave You has a lot of characters, and the early parts of the film don’t always make it super clear what all everyone’s relationships are. The core of the story is the Altman clan—it’s their dad who died—with children Judd (Bateman), Wendy (Fey), Paul (Stoll), and Phillip (Driver), alongside the widowed Hillary (Fonda). But buzzing around them are such figures as friends, lovers, ex-lovers, potential lovers, spouses, children, and neighbors.

You can probably assume more or less where this is all going from this setup: lots of drama, lots of laughter, wacky and inappropriate comments, sex with spouses and otherwise, reopening of wounds, closing of other wounds. It’s something of a new formula, or at least a new spin on an old formula, but it works. Not unlike what made Silver Linings Playbook so appealing, This Is Where I Leave You reminds you why people like formulaic movies in the first place.

And, of course, that cast helps. They aren’t exactly flawless—Bateman is good, but typecast in a Michael Bluth–like role; Fey is surprisingly weak in a role that requires her to play more dramatic than usual; Byrne is likeable but not given enough to work with; Driver is a lot of fun, but cast as a supposed idiot, and while he can play a jerk and a smartass with the best of them, I’m not sure that he’s capable of playing stupid.

There’s also an overall falsity in This Is Where I Leave You that you don’t get in the best of these types of stories, including the aforementioned. That said, it isn’t nearly as bad in that department as one would expect from Levy, here tackling his first year-end, possible-awards-nominee type of movie. This is easily his best film, but that’s not saying much for the guy whose last offering was The Internship, and whose best-known films are the Night at the Museum movies and the abhorrent Date Night. And while I don’t expect This Is Where I Leave You to be winning any awards, it does show that Levy has it in him to make a surprisingly good movie. | Pete Timmermann

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