With an ensemble cast starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda, “This Is Where I Leave You” certainly had enough star power to make a successful dramatic comedy. Unfortunately, the unoriginal plot ultimately makes this film a forgettable one.
To sum the whole movie up, a dysfunctional Jewish family comes together after the death of their father and ends up bonding in unexpected (read: completely predictable) ways. Based on a 2009 novel by Jonathan Tropper, “This Is Where I Leave You” mimics the nature of other family-drama films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) and “The Family Stone” (2005), only with less unique characters and even less unique problems.
The film begins when Judd Altman (Bateman) discovers that his wife (Abigail Spencer) has been having a long-term affair with his boss. Immediately after, he finds out that his dad has passed away. He and his three siblings reunite at their childhood home in the wake of their father’s death, where they are welcomed by their mother (Fonda) and her exaggerated breast augmentation.
She explains that their father’s last wish was for his wife and children to sit “shiva” for him, a Jewish mourning ritual that lasts seven days. The siblings are horrified at the thought of spending so much time with each other, but of course they end up learning quite a bit about each other in the week that passes.
During that time, Judd rekindles a flame with his ex-girlfriend (Rose Byrne), but his wife appears unexpectedly and reveals that she’s pregnant. Judd’s older brother (Corey Stoll) and his wife (Kathryn Hahn), however, are still struggling to conceive. Meanwhile, the sister of the family, Wendy (Fey) is miserable in her marriage. Over the course of the week, she realizes that she still loves her boyfriend from years past who suffered a life-altering brain injury while they were dating. Last, but certainly not least, is the youngest sibling Phillip (Adam Driver) who fulfils the role of the family “screw-up” with his playboy nature and directionless life.
At first, there is much tension between the siblings and their mother, but as the week progresses, the family dynamic changes. Events ranging from hilarious misunderstandings to emotional breakdowns help the family realize that they truly do need each other.
Directed by Shawn Levy, whose famous comedic works include “Cheaper by the Dozen” (2003) and “The Pink Panther” (2006), “This Is Where I Leave You” is certainly not lacking in well-executed scenes of hilarity and surprise. Jason Bateman and Tina Fey are, of course, royalty in the world of entertainment, and both did fantastic jobs of displaying their individual comedic personalities while maintaining serious stances during the more solemn scenes.
Perhaps the most entertaining scene of the film is one in which Judd discovers a handful of joints in the pocket of one of his father’s suits while the family is at temple. He and his three brothers proceed to ditch the service and get high in one of the rooms of the synagogue. Unfortunately for them, the smoke triggers the fire alarms and the entire congregation is evacuated.
Bateman later shows his flexibility as an actor when Judd talks to his mother in an especially moving moment of the movie. Judd shares how he feels like he let his father down and that now, his life is falling apart despite his efforts to hold it together (“Arrested Development,” anyone?). Bateman acts as an entirely convincing downtrodden, middle-aged man, complete with tearful eyes. Fonda contributes a shockingly motherly role, providing poignant words of wisdom on how complex and unpredictable life is.
“This Is Where I Leave You” is more of a comedy than a drama, as many scenes that have full emotional potential are interrupted by some kind of ridiculous occurrence. Again, most of the plotline was incredibly predictable and seemed to copy a conglomeration of films that have the same general story.
This film is recommended for a good laugh, but save yourself the ticket price if you’re looking for a more mentally satisfying movie.