By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
As people are imperfect, there is no such thing as a perfect family. We all have our familial issues, some worse than others, but if we can find some common ground in love with our siblings, parents and other relatives, there’s not much more to need. If that love is there as a solid foundation, whatever battles, grievances or annoyances we have with one another can be handled. There’s nothing like the death of a loved one to bring out the worst and the best in a family and Shawn Levy’s latest film, This Is Where I Leave You deals with familial dysfunction and personal problems that often come to light during a time of grief. Levy and writer Jonathan Tropper, who adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same title, attempt to present a family in a realistic manner; however, their reliance on family clichés and overly familiar story tropes and beats fail to set this one apart from others. On the positive side of the spectrum, the movie does have quite the talent in its superb cast.
This Is Where I Leave You introduces its audience to the Altman family who have recently suffered the loss of their patriarch. The normally scattered siblings reunite in their hometown to attend the funeral and, in accordance with their father’s last wishes, the family will remain in the home for a week and honor the Jewish tradition of mourning by sitting Shiva. Not only do the Altmans have their own personal problems, but they also have some unresolved issues among each other. Judd (Jason Bateman) has been dealing with the marital infidelity of his wife and their subsequent divorce. Wendy (Tina Fey) is unhappily married to her work obsessed husband Barry (Aaron Lazar). Oldest child Paul (Corey Stoll) has been unsuccessfully attempting to procreate with his desperate wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn). Lastly, the irresponsible “baby” of the family Phillip (Adam Driver) has failed to get his life in order, but hopes to get back on track by dating his shrink Tracy Sullivan (Connie Briton). As children these siblings have definitely had their difficulties with one another, but now that they’re adults their relationships seem to have worsened making their week of Shiva a very trying one.
Though Levy and Tropper’s film follow an all too familiar path, the well written and performed humor does make this film highly entertaining and certainly enjoyable. The movie covers all the usual beats that dysfunctional family comedies and rom-coms often follow, but in the vein of humor, Levy and Tropper do offer some lovely and hilarious surprises. What really sells this movie is the acclaimed and talented cast who hit all the right comedic notes, but can also hold their own when it comes to the more poignant and dramatic scenes.
The ensemble cast consists of some tremendously impressive names, most of which I already mentioned above and none of them show any weaknesses or flaws in their acting here. Even if a particular scene or moment has not so great writing or just appears copied and pasted from another film, the actors deliver solid work that almost makes those moments work. In addition to the outstanding leads, the film also features strong performances and appearances by Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Abigail Spencer, Dax Sheppard, and Ben Schwarz.
And this extraordinary ensemble is the main reason that I recommend that people go see this movie. I wouldn’t recommend paying for full priced tickets, but this film would make for a fun afternoon at the theater. This may be a film about a family, but it really isn’t a “family film.” That is a movie friendly to audiences of all ages. If the family consists of adults who can attend an R-rated movie, then perhaps this would make for a lovely family get-together at the movies.