This Is Where I Leave You Review
I am not sure what draws me into family dramas. I am particularly not sure what draws me into movies about dysfunctional families or even dysfunctional individuals. I am not sure if it is because they walk the line between funny and emotional. I don't know if I see a piece of myself in these shattered souls. I just don't know, but I have come to like them for the most part. When a cast and a crew connect with it, the result can be spectacular.
Shawn Levy is a comedy director that I have a hard time getting excited for. I didn't like "Just Married," or "The Watch," or "The Internship," or "Cheaper By The Dozen" or "What Happens In Vegas" or "Management." Levy seems to conjure up nothing but dead ends with his filmography. Even when he is working with the brightest of stars. So For Shawn Levy to direct a dramatic-comedy and hire people like Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olphant and Dax Shepherd in it, I didn't automatically lift an eye. Levy has a lot of sins to answer for, and throwing this many talented performers into the mix doesn't qualify for a passable film.
I will say that the great performances by this ensemble is part of the reason why "This Is Where I Leave You" might work for you. I think critics in general have been a little too hard on this film for the last few months. I think it isn't a perfect film, it's not an across-the-board great film, but it is a step in the right direction for Levy as an artist. I laughed through many parts of the film, that is just plain and simple. There were also parts that just really moved me, discussions between characters that felt very reminiscent of conversations I have had with my own family. Shawn Levy has a lot to be proud of here, and I hope he takes the strengths from this one and magnifies them.
When we meet Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) at the beginning of the film, he is not having a good couple of days. Not only did his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) cheat on him, over a year with his boss (Dax Shepherd), his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to tell him his father has just passed away. Judd races home to the funeral and reconnects with his older brother Paul (Corey Stoll), younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver) and his mother Hillary (Jane Fonda). Judd also reconnects with an old flame Penny Moore (Rose Byrne). Judd's fathers dying wish was for his family to sit shivas, which means they have to stay in their home for an entire week, mourning his death. This is tough on the Altman's because they have never been a particularly close family. You can probably tell where this one is headed, secrets are revealed, the family grows closer and we learn that being normal isn't real but that is a good thing.
I think "This Is Where I Leave You" connected with me because a lot of the film is funny. I think Levy does a pretty good job balancing the tears of emotionality and tears of laughter pretty well, something I don't think he's quite managed in the past. You can already imagine that Bateman, Fey, Stoll, Byrne, Shepherd and Fonda are terrific in this, and that is correct, they are terrific. I think this is one of the smarter scripts Levy has worked with, and had it been streamlined a bit, this would have been marvel. There is some smart dialogue in the movie, there are some moments that feel completely human. I think the chemistry between the siblings with their mother feels human as well. This made me surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.
I am wildly curious to see what Adam Driver has in store for Star Wars Episode VII, I have seen him in this movie and I saw him earlier this winter in "Inside Llweyn Davis" and the characters he plays are completely different. Driver seems to becoming an actor who has great range, no two characters alike. That's great, we need more actors like him. His character has an older girlfriend played by Connie Britton, and she's an actor I have always liked and she doesn't disappoint here. The acting is fairly stellar, and it helps the audience buy into the films flaws.
Yep, there are a few flaws. The film really butters up its message, and seems to underline its themes, just in case you missed them. The point is, we didn't miss them, they are really hard to miss. There are several conversations throughout the entire movie about how the "family isn't normal." Well, no family is normal, but that is what makes each family great. Seriously, Bateman has at least three conversations with Fonda about not being normal, and I felt my head beginning to ache by the third. While the performances are very good, each actor is playing a cliché. No sibling is happy with their life and they each have a secret. Of course, those secrets get fleshed out throughout the week-long visit. They grow as a family, and while it is sweet, it is awfully sugar-coated. It also feels like something I have seen a thousand times before.
But hey, Levy surprised by making something funny and charming. He made something rich in performances. Kind of hard to fully hate on a guy for that. But haters do hate, and I feel that is part of the reason why this movie is getting so much of a bad wrap. Yeah, it isn't perfect, but its worth at leat a look.
FINAL GRADE: B-