Director Shawn Levy's This is Where I Leave You is a film elevated wholly by the talent of the cast involved and the stock they decide to put in their characters. To that point it would seem that the material is the weak point here, but that isn't apparent until the last act of the film when the amount of drama and issues incorporated into one family becomes too much to the point of inauthentic. We can only buy into so much drama before it all seems to become a little too convenient to make certain points. That said, this is a film nowhere near as hokey (in both its sentimentality and contrivances) as it made itself out to be in the trailers. Levy is a more than capable filmmaker who has shown time and time again he has an aptitude for crafting features the entire family can easily enjoy (junk food movies to a certain extent) so why not turn the tables on himself and make an honest, R-rated movie about those he so often entertains? I don't know if that was the directors intent or if he just loved the Jonathan Tropper novel this is based on, but either way he has put together something that both older family members will likely enjoy and be able to relate to. This is Where I Leave You is a film that is at least willing to find the comedy in every situation, the laughs that would naturally be thought of as inappropriate are appreciated thus making the family at the center all the more endearing despite the mountain of baggage each member brings to the table. It is a film made more fun and more enjoyable by those you share in the experience with as I'm sure it is more affecting when seen with siblings or parents than it would be with a group of friends. There is little in the way of outside influence sans significant others as this is a story fully focused on the family unit and how the dynamics between different individuals of different status within that unit relate to one another and mean a certain extent to one another depending on the situation. It brings to the surface not just the comedy of "the friends you can't choose" scenario, but also the intricacies of how these relationships differ which is interesting. While not being a completely genuine or necessarily heartfelt piece, it is a melodrama of the more credible degree mostly because we like the people playing the people we're watching.

Wendy (Tina Fey) is just as appalled as her mother (Jane Fonda) at her trio of brothers.
Jason Bateman is Jason Bateman or rather he is Judd Altman, a radio producer with a hit show starring an egotistical talking head (Dax Shepard) who's been sleeping with his wife (Abigail Spencer) for a year. To make matters worse Judd comes across this information when he walks in on the two of them in his bed on his wife's birthday. At first, it's strange as Judd picks up a specially ordered cake and seemingly has plans for her big day signaling that he is inherently a caring husband. That this affair has been going on for over a year and he didn't know is a bit distracting given the implied tone of their relationship, but this foible of Judd's character isn't brought into the fold until the film is closing in on its last act. Long enough after discovering his wife's adultery for him to grow a depression beard Judd gets news his father has passed away. This inciting death incident brings Judd back to his quaint, upstate New York home where his author mother (Jane Fonda) still resides. Judd assumes he will return for the funeral and escape back to his solitary lifestyle without having to share with his family that he is getting a divorce. As it turns out, his fathers dying wish was to have his family participate in Shiva or the week long morning period in Judaism for first-degree relatives. At this request we nestle into the fact we'll be spending the next hour and half going through the trials and tribulations of Paul (Coery Stoll) and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) who once upon a time Judd also dated. Wendy (Tina Fey) is the lone daughter of the gang and sports a typical too busy for family husband (Aaron Lazar) but may or may not have a past with Horry (Timothy Olyphant), the neighbor who suffers from a brain injury. Finally, there is the baby of the bunch and forever child Phillip (Adam Driver) who can't make it to the funeral on time and welcomes his older, therapist girlfriend (Connie Britton) into the grieving process once he learns he'll be staying for seven days. You can imagine the hijinks that ensue once everyone is brought together.

While the word hijinks may imply a bit more fun than the actual proceedings that follow are, this is still a film very much in tune with where it needs to fall in tone according to its subject matter. Again, this feels mostly due to the way the cast is able to take the material and whip it back and forth between one another with such natural affection. The first line of the preceding paragraph was certainly meant to point out that Bateman sticks to his typical guns here, laying on the dry comedic sensibility he successfully relies on in spades. You could say that Bateman somewhat overly-relies on this persona he has built to get him through every role, but that facade is no doubt why he was cast as it serves its purpose really well here. To take the number of hits the character of Judd does in this film you need someone whose psyche and physical exterior can handle it and Bateman's sarcastic, mask things with wit approach is perfect for Judd's needed mentality. He delivers line after line here with such precision that much of the comedy is more in the timing and delivery than the actual words he's speaking. Bateman may consistently do Bateman, but when it is used effectively it is truly something to behold. The other highlights of this large ensemble is that of Driver and Rose Byrne. Driver (who you may recognize from Frances Ha or Inside Llewyn Davis if you don't watch Girls) takes part in his first real mainstream effort here and it's clear he kind of knows it. He goes for the big laughs and chews the scenery with his exaggerated facial expressions and obnoxious tendency to exploit anyone at any turn given they provide him ammo. He plays the role with the same kind of energy and fun that Phillip clearly puts into playing the pre-destined role of the youngest sibling. That said, he is able to bring it down just enough that we believe he is capable of having the required small moments among his siblings as well, one where he encounters Fey's Wendy is especially touching. Byrne plays the girl that got away to Bateman's Judd, but in a not so surprising turn given it's Byrne playing the role she actually gives us reason in her limited screen time to buy into why Judd shouldn't have let her get away in the first place.

From left: Wendy, Judd (Jason Bateman), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver)
reunite under unfortunate circumstances.
This is a film about a man in a crucial moment in his life (getting divorced, accepting the fact his ambitions for his life are somewhat ruined) who is knocked further down when a second major experience comes along. The natural reactions of mourning and sadness to the news of death that come, but it is the means of this family reunion of sorts that come out of the experience that forces this man to confront his present state of being. If anything, the death opens up some perspective while the forced togetherness eventually enlightens. As this kind of study on the American family unit This is Where I Leave You can engage on many levels and, as I've said before, it is the performance of Bateman in this lead role that really transcends the somewhat mawkish circumstances that consistently arise throughout the narrative. What is disappointing about the film and more the story in general is that it just doesn't have the time to devote to the smaller stories that exist within each character. Besides the fact that Tina Fey is underutilized for being as great a presence as she can be she has what might be the most heartbreaking conflict out of everyone. Her dealings with having left her hometown to go on and get married and start a family (which, on the bright side, gives way to one of the better running jokes in the film) insist regret every time she looks at the house across the street. I won't say anything more, but I would love to see a film just about Wendy. The same could be said for Stoll and Hahn. Both are wonderful actors who bring a real presence with them to every role which works here as they are both somewhat relegated to the background, but in there attempts to have children and the constant failing of being able to do so is also truly tragic and material that could be mined if there was any room to do so. As for the matriarch, Fonda has little to do other than walk around flaunting her fake boobs. This is Where I Leave You desperately wants to breed humor from heartache, but tries too hard to do so and is at its best when allowing its talented cast to reflect in one another that despite adulthood not being all they imagined, they at least still see their truest selves in this home and one another.            

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