Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Sexual Content and some Drug Use
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Jonathan Tropper
(based on the novel THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper)
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard & Jane Fonda
A lot of inherent problems arise when families get together. Sibling rivalries reignite, relatives are embarrassed that they aren’t quite where they want to be in their life, and there’s just the plain awkwardness of being around your in-laws. It’s a messy scenario that rears its head around holidays, reunions, and in unfortunate circumstances in the death of a loved one. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU tackles such problems and is based on the bestselling novel by Jonathan Tropper with a screenplay adapted by the author of the source material. The film has made its rounds at festivals like Toronto International and boasts a lot of big names. Though its receiving lukewarm reception at the moment, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is a very enjoyable slice-of-life mix between semi-realistic drama and awkward comedy that will entertain adults looking for something specifically geared towards the age crowd of early 20 somethings and onward.
Judd Altman has always lived his simple life in hopes that he could avoid the exact rough patch he’s currently in. Finding his wife in bed with his boss, Judd is going through a divorce and lost his job. To make matters even worse, his terminally ill father has passed away sooner than expected. To honor his dad’s last wish, he and the rest of his family (mother, sister, two brothers, and their in-laws) are living together under one roof for a week. As if things couldn’t be complicated enough, each family member is going through a bad spot of their own. Wendy is his sister trapped in a loveless marriage with two kids. Paul is the eldest brother trying to have a baby with his wife, but finding it’s far more difficult for them than expected, Phillip is a young playboy going through an Oedipus-complex of sorts by dating his far older therapist. Finally, their mother Hillary is over sharing and overbearing. This group of people and their in-laws are trapped together for seven days. In the tagline from a certain horror film, who will survive and what will be left of them…
I won’t be shocked if THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU winds up being an unsung gem of 2014. I was far more convinced that THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU was a realistic story examining both sadness and humor that life brings than many other drama-comedies from recent years (e.g. this year’s WISH I WAS HERE). It really helps that all of the main cast members have chemistry together and make this feel like an honest-to-God family rather than just an excuse for an ensemble film. The family may be highly dysfunctional (comically in ways, hence the well-deserved laughs at characters’ expenses), but I cared about each individual, their problems and their relationships to some degree. Not every issue gets easily solved either or fixed at all. Much like our own lives, certain problems must be endured or left to fate.
Not everything is solid in THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU as a few plot elements are predictable. A fling between Jason Bateman’s Judd and a character named Penny (played by Rose Byrne) plays out in a familiar way. The scenes between them do build to a satisfying conclusion, but they almost felt a little too played up in a film that’s focusing on real-life problems that many people go through. There are also too many sappy one-on-one talks between characters that all focus on the same kind of thing: character has a problem, other character comforts them, both walk away happy. That’s fine a handful of times, but it got laughable at one point to almost a Lifetime Channel degree. The cheesy soundtrack doesn’t do the film any favors either, making some already corny dialogue seem even more clichéd.
Even with all of the problems listed, the chemistry between the main characters is what sold me on really enjoying this film. I’d say the two stand-outs are Jason Bateman as a character with real dramatic weight behind him and Tina Fey as his sister trapped in the loveless marriage. Both are given a lot of range to play with and use it to their advantage in their performances. The rest of the cast (some of whom I didn’t recognize at all) do a solid job as well with three exceptions. Those would be Rose Byrne (who feels like she’s from a typical rom-com), Timothy Olyphant (whose inclusion was almost entirely pointless), and Dax Shepherd (who’s acting like he’s from a completely different kind of movie). Luckily, the focus is on the Altman family, instead of these weak side characters serving as means to an end.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU can sometimes get cheesy (especially in repetitive conversations and a bad soundtrack), but I was entertained by this little dramedy a lot more than I thought I would be going in. It’s an uplifting film that tackles real-world problems (one could argue too many problems and in a few misguided ways) in a fashion that comes off as sad and funny because it’s kind of accurate. The main cast sell their roles as a troubled family with real chemistry, while the side characters could have been completely ripped out of the film and it would have possibly been even better for that. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is a good date movie or a decent watch if you want an uplifting mix of drama and comedy.