Who knew having a family sucked so bad? Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Academy Award winner Jane Fonda star in This Is Where I Leave You.
Cast of Characters:
Judd Altman – Jason Bateman
Wendy Altman – Tina Fey
Phillip Altman – Adam Driver
Penny Moore – Rose Byrne
Paul Altman – Corey Stoll
Alice Altman – Kathryn Hahn
Tracy – Connie Britton
Horry – Timothy Olyphant
Wade Boulanger – Dax Shepard
Hillary Altman – Jane Fonda
Director – Shawn Levy
Screenplay – Jonathan Tropper
Based on the novel This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Producer – Shawn Levy, Paula Weinstein & Jeffrey Levine
Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use
Following the death of their father, the Altman children – Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) – reunite with their celebrity therapist mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) at the funeral. As requested per their father’s dying wish, the Altman’s perform the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva, a week long process of mourning.
However, the death in the family is ironically the least of their worries. Judd’s in the middle of a divorce after catching his wife cheating on him, Wendy’s dealing with her career-obsessed husband, Paul and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) have been trying desperately to have a baby, with no such luck, and baby Phillip’s developed a bit of an oedipal complex, dating therapist Tracy (Connie Britton), who’s closer to his mother’s age than his.
What a bunch of screwups, but don’t worry. By the end of this movie they’ll all have us awwing at them or else.
Like Ron Howard’s Parenthood and last year’s August: Osage County, This Is Where I Leave You is the next film to remind viewers just how screwed up families are. Like the former two, the cast is stacked with talent, but is so far away from what Parenthood was able to achieve, and winds up just as overcrowded and annoying as August: Osage County.
If there was an award for who could waste the most talent, director Shawn Levy (known for dopey comedies and clearly out of his element here) and writer Jonathan Tropper (based on his own novel) would win hands down.
There’s no reason to think that with this cast, this couldn’t have been a good film. To their credit, the effort from them is shown. The big, glaring problem is the script, which has as much focus as an ADD kid off his meds stuck inside a Pantera themed three-ring circus, while…
The storyboard must’ve looked like this…
1) Bateman has the obligatory office walk-through scene, which means he’s gonna come home and find his wife getting pounded by someone else. Kid #1 has his sad moment.
2) Mandatory reference to Hanoi Jane’s boobs.
3) Tina Fey’s husband is a huge dickhead, and lo and behold her former love is still living across the street. Do the math… Kid #2 has her sad moment.
4) Another mandatory reference to the former Mrs. Ted Turner’s boobs.
5) Sibling fight.
6) As quite possibly contractually obligated, any film involving a small-town has to have the leading man’s former high school sweetheart – still living back home – pop up, causing the leading man to reevaluate his life and wonder what the hell he’s been doing with it.
7) Kiddie poop joke? Why the hell not?
8) Bateman’s ex wants him back, and has a surprise for him, forcing his wounds to reopen. Kid #1 has another sad moment.
9) Another kiddie poop joke? Sure, keep ’em coming!
10) Yep, another mandatory reference to Barbarella’s boobs.
11) Sibling fight.
12) I know what you’re thinking. Kids #3-4 haven’t had their sad moment. They’re coming. Don’t worry.
13) Sibling fight.
14) Everyone now gets along. Hammer home message about how important family is or some crap like that.
It’s bad enough that Levy and Tropper (who proves that just ’cause you may be a good novelist, doesn’t mean you’ll make a good screenwriter) have things overstuffed here. Each of the kids (all representing some trope varying from the older, prick-ish, “responsible” one to the baby of the family who’s a slacker loser) has to have their own personal “crisis” scene, whether it’s Bateman’s divorce (you know the soon-to-be ex is gonna show up at the mom’s house later on for a reason that, once again, you already see coming), Fey’s marital issues, Driver’s mommy fetish and Stoll’s baby dilemma, but everyone’s so underdeveloped it’s hard to buy into their issues. And to think I haven’t even gotten to the horrendous underuse of talent such as Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant yet. What’s worse is that for every one moment that feels genuine, whether comedic or dramatic, there’s two that feel forced, false or a fallback on a cheap boob, dick or poop gag.
Both Jason Bateman (always a welcome presence) and Tina Fey (in one of her better performances) are the two lone bright spots here. Out of the bunch, it’s his Judd and her Wendy that seem to have the most depth. But even then, it’s only when they’re together that you get a decent sense of who their characters are. Apart, all the problems happening in their own worlds feel so rushed and tacked on, as if a little blip of a conversation answers everything for them.
Despite the rare occasion here that a laugh must’ve accidentally slipped out of my mouth, This Is Where I Leave You is a mawkish comedy-drama that fails to be either funny or heartfelt. Believe it or not, the fact that it’s overstuffed and predictable is the least of its sins. It’s an attractive cast, albeit a wasted one, but it says a lot about the direction and the writing when not even a cast this good can make any use of the flimsily thin characters they’ve been given.
I give This Is Where I Leave You a D+ (★½).