Director: Shawn Levy
Actors: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll
Writer: Jonathan Tropper (novel and screenplay)
Runtime: 103 min
The dysfunctional family is a movie trope to which audiences can often relate. Many of the characters present in these films feel just like people we know in real life, yet the situations in these works often go far beyond our own realities, creating a sense of comfort as we realize that our families are not all that eccentric by comparison. Director Shawn Levy’s film This is Where I Leave You (2014) focuses on a family played by a host of talented actors. To my surprise, this movie offered up some genuinely funny and laugh-inducing moments, and only went over-the-top in a few forgivable instances. The success of the work rests largely on the shoulders of the eternally likable Jason Bateman, who grounds the work in a subtle wit and sympathetic character.
Upon the death of their father, the Altman siblings Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll), and Phillip (Adam Driver) find themselves forced into close confines when their mother Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda) demands that they sit Shiva for the required seven days. Surrounded by a tangled web of significant others and ex-relationships, and boasting very different problems and personalities, sparks are bound to fly between these individuals. As the siblings bicker and clash heads, however, they begin to reveal their hidden secrets and pasts. Although the family fights like the best of them, they are ultimately able to come together and to help each other as only those who love you best are able.
Director Levy’s film is based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie, and benefits from a strong concept with endless comedic as well as emotional potential. Troppper’s script is often witty and dry, and his lines are delivered to great effect by talented comedians such as Bateman and Fey. Although the entire cast is strong, these two provide the heart of the film, and their warm and funny interactions often prompt laughter. Bateman in particular possesses an impeccable sense of comedic timing that can turn even a simple line or mundane observance into a joke. Another standout actor is star-of-the-moment Driver, who presents an immature and irresponsible character but imbues him with so much quirky charm that he is impossible not to like. The only actor who did not impress was headliner Fonda, who’s role felt as though it could have been played just as well, if not better, by a host of other stars.
The funniest moments in this film occur when the director takes a step back and allows his camera to simply observe all that is occurring under the Altman roof. Because the film boasts such a strong cast and is full of genuine comedic moments, it does not require the baser jokes that appear sporadically throughout. Cheap toilet and sexual humour adds nothing to a work that would have been stronger – and funnier – without it. However, for every joke that misses its mark, another hits the bull’s eye, and the situational comedy fortunately remains in the realm of the believable. A few sincere moments also add emotion to the work, but the tone remains sharp enough to avoid sappiness even as the heartstrings are tugged.
This is Where I Leave You is full of many storylines that retain audience interest, but remains focused on Jason Bateman’s character Judd. Bateman not only carries the film with his wit, but also grounds it in a relatable and sympathetic character. Dysfunctional family films often go off the deep end with their ridiculous personalities and situations, yet this film retains a sense of reality. A few cheap jokes aside, the work is overall a very funny look at a family forced together realizing that they just might need each other after all.