THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU
By Gary Murray
Starring Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Jason Bateman
Written by Jonathan Tropper
Directed by Shawn Levy
Running time 107 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Death has always been a part of comedy almost from inception. The oldest theorem of comedy states that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Death at a Funeral both the US and UK versions are two recent examples of this kind of comedy. The latest film about dealing with aftermath of demise is This is Where I Leave You.
Jason Bateman plays Judd, a man who has been having a very bad existence. As a guy who doesn’t do complicated, he works for a shock jock (Dax Shepard) and has a beautiful wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer). Judd walks in on his boss and his wife having sex. Then he gets the phone call that his dad died.
It is a family that is not very close and have scattered to the four winds. Mom (Jane Fonda) insists that all the kids fulfill his last wish, to sit Shiva. The Jewish concept of Shiva means that for a week the immediate family sits and receives visitors in the family home. It is a time of reflection and honoring the dead.
Years ago, Mom had written an international best-seller about her family. It is the thing that started driving the wedge between all the different members of the family. Mom has no qualms about sex and discussing her romantic hi-jinks with her husband in their younger days.
Judd has an older brother Paul (Corey Still) and kid sister Wendy (Tina Fey). Paul is married to Judd’s old flame Alice (Kathryn Hahn) and Alice and Paul are trying to conceive their first child. Wendy has a marriage on the rocks and pines for her neighbor who is the victim of a tragedy. Added to the mix is wayward youngest son Phillip (Adam Driver) who brings his much older girlfriend to the homestead.
During the seven days, Judd keeps running into another old flame Penny (Rose Byrne). She is a skater who came back home to care for her aged mother and just stayed. There is this definite spark still smoldering between the two. It is another complication in Judd’s life.
The more the family sits around mourning, the further the tensions rise. In order to keep the screenplay chugging along, more and more twists are added into the mix. It seems that everyone has a problem and everyone has a secret. The world of This is Where I Leave You is a world where no one is happy.
By the time we get to the end, all the surprises are just that bit too much. As the film spools along, more and more the willing suspension of disbelief is weakened. Before the last act, this suspension snaps under its own weight.
Parts of the film do feel honest. The needling of the brothers is the single truest beat of the film and those are the most telling moments. But as writer Jonathan Tropper tries to build on his base, he goes into sit-com mode, taking element after element and never exploring the meaning behind them.
Director Shawn Levy tries to blend comedy and pathos within the same scenes and succeeds about 50% of the time. He has some great comic actors in his cast but fails to really let them loose on the material. The restrain almost kills the impact.
The casting of This is Where I Leave You is brilliant. Jason Bateman plays the sad sack much in the same way as classic Hollywood actors. His moping eyes and put-upon stare work great for the role. But the more you watch this mess of a man, the more one wonders how he can land so many different beautiful women.
Tina Fey is a great comic but with this role she proves that she can be a great actress. There are truly heartfelt moments between her and Jason Bateman where the emotions ring true. She is a woman caught in a life she didn’t expect and didn’t plan.
Jane Fonda still looks great as the aged mother of this clan. She still has strong comedy chops and can deliver a punch line as well as the seasoned comics in other roles. It is great to see her back on the big screen and not afraid to show her aging.
This is Where I Leave You is much more humorous comedy than laugh out loud giggle-fest. It is a tale of love and death and how they are tied together. The film is about reflection and rebirth of family ties. It does seem to drag here and there but it entertains on a consistent but low level. All together is a mediocre film with a stunning cast.