Jason Bateman as Judd Altman
Tina Fey as Wendy Altman
Jane Fonda as Hillary Altman
Adam Driver as Phillip Altman
Corey Stoll as Paul Altman
Kathryn Hahn as Alice Altman
Connie Britton as Tracy Sullivan
Timothy Olyphant as Horry Callen
Dax Shepard as Wade Beaufort
Debra Monk as Linda Callen
Abigail Spencer as Quinn Altman
Ben Schwartz as Rabbi Charles Grodner (aka Boner)
Aaron Lazar as Barry Weissman
Cade Lappin as Cole
Directed by Shawn Levy
Shortly after Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) walks in on his wife Quinn sleeping with his boss, he learns his father has died. He and his three siblings Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) must travel back to their childhood home to pay their respects. Once there, Judd is immediately thrust back into his dysfunctional family dynamics while also exploring options when running into a childhood crush (Rose Byrne).
Based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel, “This Is Where I Leave You” sounds and feels very much like the type of dramedies we see so often at film festivals like Sundance with an all-star cast playing a dysfunctional family forced to reunite after the death of a loved one. The difficult job of setting just the right tone for this kind of movie falls to director Shawn Levy, who has mainly directed madcap family comedies for studios (and a brief foray into action with “Real Steel”).
After the death of the Altman patriarch, his wife and kids agree to fulfill his dying wish to have the family “sit shivah,” a Jewish tradition that has them gathering under one roof for seven days straight while greeting friends and family. Jason Bateman’s Judd meanwhile is still trying to deal with catching his wife in bed with his boss and learning she had an affair for over a year. Being with his family–including his ex-girlfriend Annie (Kathryn Hahn) now married to his older brother Paul (Corey Stoll)–does very little to help. Meanwhile, their irresponsible younger brother Philip (Adam Driver) shows up at the house with the significantly older Tracy (Connie Britton), who reminds everyone of their mother (Jane Fonda).
As is always the case with these movies, this is a family that has rarely gotten along with each other, so putting them together in the same house for an extended period of time is just asking for trouble. But that?s where the fun lies in these kinds of movies and it’s where having such a strong and varied cast helps to keep things entertaining.
Most of the cast seems well suited for their roles, but the two that really stand out are Adam Driver, bringing a little more depth and dimension to his character than some of his other performances, and Stoll, an unconventional choice who delivers on a role that’s not quite as juicy as some of the others. Kathryn Hahn also proves herself to be one of the better members of the cast at straddling that difficult line between comedy and drama.
Jason Bateman once again proves himself to be a perfectly suitable everyman with some of the film’s best moments being the ones between him and Rose Byrne as the quirky but immediately lovable woman from his past. Unfortunately, for the many Tina Fey fans going to see the movie, she’s probably the weakest link of the lot, maybe because she’s just not as good in the more dramatic scenes as some of the others. There’s also the awkward running subplot about the brain-injured neighbor played by the oddly-cast Timothy Olyphant that pops in and out but has seemingly the least amount of relevance to the overall story. There’s another twist that’s even more jarring and from out of left field towards the end of the movie as well.
As far as “bad mothers” go, Fonda isn’t nearly as atrocious as other ones we’ve seen–Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” immediately comes to mind – but she also drifts into the background other than to show off her enhanced cleavage.
So with such a good cast, what could possibly go wrong? It’s hard to tell why the movie sometimes feels off, but author Jonathan Tropper adapting his own novel may be part of the problem, especially since one often gets the impression Bateman’s character is meant to represent the author. The screenplay is perfectly fine except that anyone who has seen more than one dysfunctional family dramedy like this will immediately feel they know where everything is going, and that’s pretty much where it all goes.
In general, every actor gets a moment to shine or a strong scene with one of the other actors, but sometimes it feels like Levy is trying too hard to create more of an emotional connection between the characters. The level of humor sometimes lowers itself to gags about one of the youngest kids learning how to potty train themselves, but for the most part the comedy works on a higher level than many of Levy’s previous films, because the laughs are countered by deep emotions. Other than that, Levy does a perfectly fine job with what he had to work with in terms of a plot and script even if things generally go where you might expect with Judd unsure where to go next.
The Bottom Line:
There are certainly the same minor tonal issues that often are expected when you’re so carefully trying to balance tough domestic issues with lighter levity, but Shawn Levy’s cast often makes up for the routineness of the film’s overused premise.