I’m Catholic, but if Jason Bateman and Adam Driver want me to sit Shiva with them, then yeah, I’m totally Jewish.
After the patriarch of the family passes away, the Altman siblings all decide to honor his final wish and sit Shiva for the next week. Although none of them really want to, they decide to anyway, not to just honor their dad’s wishes, but to ensure that their mother (Jane Fonda) doesn’t have a total hissy-fit. The problem is though, none of the siblings really get along. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), is always so very serious and is having a problem impregnating his needy wife (Kathryn Hahn); Wendy (Tina Fey) is sort of having the same problem of her own with her kids and husband, although she’s finding some peace with her ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who happens to still be living in town; Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the midst of divorcing his cheating wife (Abigail Spencer), but finds some solace when he reconnects with a long lost of his own, Penny (Rose Byrne); and lastly, the youngest, Phillip (Adam Driver) is a bit of a wild child that not only brings his much-older girlfriend with him (Connie Britton), but finds it hard to ever really think about why he misses so much of his dad to begin with. Then again, none of them really do, which is how most of their fights pop-up in the first place.
Though I have never read the original-text from which this movie is an adaptation of, I assume that it’s a great piece of work because of how much critics seem to be trashing this movie. Sure, there are some good reviews to be found here and there, but overall, This Is Where I Leave You seems to be a real disappointment. And while I can’t say that I particularly agree, or disagree with the general consensus of this film, I can at least attest to the fact that I’m one of those reviewers who didn’t hate it that much.
Is this, as most note in their reviews, something of a “letdown”? Of course! You’d think that with this premise and this cast heavily-stacked cast involved that not only would we have something of a classic on our hands, but a near-Oscar contender. Maybe that’s going a tad far, but seriously, just look at that IMDB page and try to tell me you’re not at least somewhat impressed with how many great talents decided to work on this. It’s almost as if director Shawn Levy himself had a piece of evidence that was detrimental to each and everyone of these star’s personal and professional lives, that he was able to bribe all of them into not just working with him on this movie, but actually putting in some fine work.
That said, the movie is not a very good one. You can clearly tell that Levy (the same guy who has directed all of the Night at the Museums‘) doesn’t really have much of a background in directing actual moving, compelling scenes of drama and instead, more or less opts for melodrama that sometimes wants to be about “adult things”, happening with “adult people”, but in the end, just turns out to be not all that important/heavy at all. That it wants to be both a comedy with various poop and sex gags, as well as a heavy-handed drama dealing with infidelity, fertility, family, depression, and other such themes, makes it feel confused and messy.
However though, there is something to be said for when you can get an ensemble this good, to really try their hardest with material that, quite frankly, doesn’t really deserve them. Once again, never read the book so all I can assume is that it was pretty great, but whatever they did with this script here is disappointing.
But that’s why we have movie stars – they’re able to not only make us happy, pleased and be entertained, but also there to remind us each and everyday why they still deserve to work, and why exactly it is that we should continue to see them in whatever they decide to do. And this is exactly why I can’t get too mad at this movie, or what Levy does as a director. Sure, it’s a hack job from someone I didn’t expect to otherwise create, but when he allows for his cast to just do what they do best and interact with one another, the movie hits some highs and makes most of the trip worth taking.
For instance, Jason Bateman is doing what he always does: Dead-pan the crap out every line he has to deliver. It’s definitely an act of his that we’ve seen for a very long time and honestly, it never seems to get old. Not there as Michael Bluth, and definitely not here as Judd Altman; which is definitely effective because he’s the sibling who gets the most attention. He’s a sad sack, but he’s the funny one of the group that also happens to be the voice-of-reason, despite him being severely depressed. Though the romance between he and Rose Byrne’s character does feel a bit tacked-on, the two at least try to create some sort of honesty that doesn’t really show much throughout the rest of the film.
But what I’ve said about Bateman, his character Judd, and what he does with him, is pretty much the same thing that could be said about the rest of the cast: They’re all putting in good work, although it’s not much different from what we’ve seen them do before. Tina Fey is funny as the jokey and wiser older sister, although it does seem like her dramatic-acting needs a bit of work; Adam Driver is his usual goofy, eccentric-self and steals mostly all of the scenes he’s in; Corey Stoll is the serious one of the family and does fine with that; Kathryn Hahn plays his wife and seems like she wants to be another one of Hahn’s crazy characters, but just ends up being a repressed wifey-poo; and Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, does what she needs to do, is funny, inappropriate and a bit smug, but she’s a pro and handles this material so well, as one could expect her to do.
And honestly, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, too. Some recognizable faces show up and remind you that they can still put in great work and make something of an impact, regardless of how small their screen-time is (Abigail Spencer makes her conventional-character of the cheating-wife seem somewhat sympathetic). Should this have been a better movie? Oh, totally! It not only should have been an Oscar-contender and definitely something people will keep on turning back to every couple of months or so. But given what it is, most likely, it’ll just be the kind of movie you find while searching through your cable. Not saying that’s a bad thing, really, but it’s definitely not supposed to make you fully pleased either.
Consensus: Given the cast involved, This Is Where I Leave You should have definitely hit harder, but everybody’s so fine that it’s at least worth watching, if only for a single-viewing and leaving it at that.
6.5 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images