Popcorn Picks: This Is Where I Leave You
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Cory Stoll, Dax Shepard, Timothy Olyphant, Kathryn Hahn, and Connie Britton.
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Choice quote: “I don’t do complicated,” Jason Bateman, as Judd Altman, explaining how he handles life’s disappointments.
The Hype: A group of adult children reunite at their parent’s picture-perfect suburban home following their father’s death. His last wish was to have his loved ones partake in “sitting shiva” (shiva being the Hebrew word for seven). That means matriarch, offspring, Millennial rabbi, and forgettable neighbours must deal with each other’s clashing personalities and California closets full of skeletons for an entire week. And their many dramas reveal themselves within hours of their reunion — impending divorce, infertility, infidelity, Peter Pan complexes, and an impressive sexagenarian boob job for good measure.
The Reality: This Is Where I Leave You is hilarious when it’s trying to be funny, but can lag when it’s not. Jason Bateman is fantastic as J̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶B̶a̶t̶e̶m̶a̶n̶ Judd Altman, the middle brother who is coming to grips with his father’s death as he hides the fact his wife left him for his boss.
Funny: when he engages in a verbal war with his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) as she tries to out his marital woes at a family gathering. Lagging: when he has a heart-to-heart with Wendy about how his life isn’t going according to the plan he set in place for himself at the tender age of 12. The movie has a lot of these scenes where characters explain their feelings at length, which is okay for a novel (the screenplay was adapted from the 2009 book of the same name), but sets the pacing off course in this flick. We’re sometimes left hoping there will be an unexpected quip or a moment of physical comedy to break things up.
Bateman and Fey are the most believable as siblings (and Fey avoids Sarah Jessica Parker syndrome — we see her as her feisty character and not as the Hollywood star she is off camera), and both are grappling with past loves. We know Wendy and her teenaged sweetheart (played by Timothy Olyphant) were inseparable before a life-altering accident, but there’s no backstory or flashbacks to convince us of their unwavering connection. We see Judd rekindle a relationship with his old flame (played by Rose Byrne), but it’s hard to root for them because we know little about her and even less about why they’re so hot for each other.
Rounding out the sibling clan are archetypical older and younger brothers, Paul (played by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll) and Philip (played by Girls’ Adam Driver). One is the responsible type charged with managing the family business, while the other is a juvenile, narcissist ruled by his ego and sex drive. Driver steals the show whenever he’s on camera and it’s a delight to watch him ignite conflict every single time the family comes together (he broadcasts Paul’s lovemaking session via baby monitor to a house full of guests, and convinces his brothers to smoke pot at temple which then sets off the sprinkler system!).
And then there’s Hillary (Jane Fonda), the mommy tasked with keeping her kids under one roof while restraining them from bringing the house down. As a liberal-minded therapist, a sex-loving free spirit, and a woman vain enough to upgrade her bosom, Fonda is a pleasure to watch in the role. She’s quick with the one-liners (“I miss him … and I miss it,” she says when discussing her late husband’s sizable member), and dead-pans her way through some crazy exchanges. She’s greatly underused in this movie, but that’s almost forgiven when she reveals a surprise twist at the end (you won’t see it coming — promise).
This Is Where I Leave You is a bit of a genre mash-up; a family-focused ensemble cast movie that should have borrowed even more from Judd Apatow’s school of comedy, than from The Family Stone’s heartfelt melodrama. It garners a lot of laugh out loud moments and would have worked even better as a straight up comedy.
There’s a running gag in the movie about a toddler hauling his potty around and doing his business at random moments. It is, of course, the perfect metaphor: life is a rollercoaster of randomness and, as we know, s**t happens.
Theatres or rent it: Theatres — the physical comedy registers better on a big screen.
Can the grandkids watch: Yes, if they’re teenagers or older.
Rating (out of 5): 3 kernels.