‘This is Where I Leave You’ Leaves a Lot Behind
Mature moviegoers who love outrageous, unrelenting family dramedies, like August: Osage County and Home for the Holidays, may likely be let down by This Is Where I Leave You. Based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper and directed by Shawn Levy, the charming yet nearly predictable ensemble dramedy is led by a top-notch cast that includes perennial favorites Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, along with Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and rising star Adam Driver. It takes a cast like this to carry out the dramatic shift that occurs midway through the film, as a fiercely jocular display of dysfunctional hijinks switches to quick-burn drama.
This Is Where I Leave You provides a punchy, boisterous setup of love instantly lost over grotesque infidelities and the death of protagonist Judd Altman’s father. As the Altman family reunites for the funeral, each member attempts to make sense of it all in the wake of their wildly complicated lives. An honest, best-selling child psychologist, Judd’s mother Hilary mandates her children to sit shiva, a Jewish mourning ritual, which plays like a cinematic construct to force the conflicted leads to deal with each other. Their eventual escape causes them to collide elsewhere, such as in bars and at temple, for their personal transformations — and this is where the fun begins.
Judd’s brother Paul and his wife have been struggling to get pregnant for ages, and she nearly targets Judd to do the dirty work just to make it happen. When sister Wendy gets drunk, she forces the revelation that Paul’s soon-to-be ex-wife cheated on him for a year with his boss. Their wild-card brother Philip brings home a sexy mother-figure girlfriend, who’s also a therapist like Hilary, and she evaluates their inappropriate relationship. And local ice-skating teacher Penny, who loved Paul when they were teens, reignites their imperfect but idealized past. Meanwhile, Wendy interacts with her own lost love, the neighbor Horry who was badly brain damaged by a car accident. These relationships and other scenarios bring equal laughs and loathing.
It takes nearly an hour to reach the point where audiences can invest in the characters to see where they land and what they learn. Many of the leads have to make dedicated, challenging decisions to get to the next station in their lives. Luckily, we get to hear about the promise instead of seeing it played out, which is refreshing and humanizing. We and the characters soon realize that awareness of our conflicted lives is often half the battle — the other half is trying to stay on a course.
Ultimately, This Is Where I Leave You plays the middle ground, creating conflict and denoting resolve that may or may not leave a lot behind for audiences to take to heart. It’s the performances that deliver in this often-incarnated story, and the great cast should win the attention of audiences.
‘This Is Where I Leave You’ opens nationwide in theaters on September 19.