Saturday, September 20, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You



This Is Where I Leave You, directed by Shawn Levy from a novel by Jonathan Tropper, is the story of what happens when four grown children return home for their father's funeral. We never meet Mort Altman (except briefly in flashback), and we don't really find out that much about him over the course of almost two hours. It seems Mort was a bad businessman who didn't kiss his kids, preferring instead a sort of gentle head-butt, but it doesn't matter because Mort's widow Hillary (Jane Fonda) supported the family as therapist and author. So if Mort's death is just the opening move then what exactly do we have here?

Jason Bateman is ideal for the role of Judd, the successful middle son whom we meet on the day he discovers his wife (Abigail Spencer) and boss (Dax Shepard) in bed together. Judd is in a funk when he returns home for Mort's funeral, not ready to tell anyone except his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) about his impending divorce. The other two Altman children are Paul (Corey Stoll), who's taking over the family business and trying to get his wife (Kathryn Hahn) pregnant, and family screw-up Phillip (Adam Driver). We don't get too many specifics about Phillip's life, but he arrives late for Mort's funeral in a Porsche and has brought an older woman (Connie Britton) home with him. At Mort's request Hillary and the kids are to sit shiva together at home, with guidance from a rabbi (Ben Schwartz) who's in the movie just so the Altmans can call him by a childhood nickname. I enjoyed Bateman's usual dry understatement and the way Tina Fey makes Wendy warm and rueful instead of bitter towards her mostly absent husband. Adam Driver and Kathryn Hahn have their moments too, but by this point the movie can't resist piling on contrivances. Fey actually gets the worst of it; she's stuck with a howler of a subplot about an old love (Timothy Olyphant) who lives across the street and has suffered a brain injury. Olyphant is terrible - he's miscast, undirected, and probably too good looking for the role - but it's hard to blame him since he's playing a character who's only purpose is to shine light on someone else. Jason Bateman at least gets to play a few scenes with Rose Byrne as a local woman who never left, but there is no time for Byrne to show the anarchic comic spirit she brought to Neighbors. It all ends with another revelation, broadly played and predictably progressive in spirit.

This Is Where I Leave You strives for seriousness and asserts the right of well-off adults to be sad and confused about their lives. I haven't read the novel, but if the movie had had the courage of its convictions (and maybe had fewer characters) it might have been something. Levy and Tropper can't settle on a tone though, and what we've got is a rushed and busy affair with well-acted dramatic scenes butting up against broad comic ones. Put This Is Where I Leave You down as a missed opportunity for one of the fall's best ensemble casts.

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