Review: This Is Where I Leave You (TIFF 2014)
PLOT: The combative Altman family is reunited after their patriarch dies. Now, to full-fill his last request, the grown children (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver) and their mother (Jane Fonda) have to sit Shiva together for seven days.
REVIEW: THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is another of the inoffensive mainstream studio movies that might have gone over better if seen outside of a film festival context. It's OK at best, but put next to potential Oscar-nominees and knockout sleepers, it feels hopelessly outclassed and like something from another era.
These types of middle-class suburban angst movies were all the rage about a decade ago, but the genre tapped itself out as there's only so many movies the privileged upper classes and their problems that you can take if they're not bringing something new to the table. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU doesn't fit the bill, in that's it's an incredibly familiar story we've seen done too many times. While based on an acclaimed book by Jonathan Tropper, the film version feels like a rehash of GARDEN STATE or ELIZABETHTOWN, with the depressed son called home to heal after the death of an estranged parent. Jason Bateman plays basically the same guy Zach Braff and Orlando Bloom did in those films. While it's nice to see him stretch a bit, all of his character beats are too easy to predict, with him being cheated-on by his beloved wife, but then able to find a quirky new love interest (Rose Byrne) within hours of returning to the family nest.
The rest of the Altman family ranges from terminally annoying like Adam Driver's bratty black sheep who comes with his rich older girlfriend in tow (Connie Britton) to barely developed, like Corey Stoll's bullying older brother whose wife (Kathryn Hahn) is comically desperate to get pregnant. One role that feels curiously short-changed is Tina Fey, with her playing the wisecracking sister who has a past with the brain-damanged boy next door (Timothy Olyphant).
One thing we do get plenty of is Jane Fonda's smothering mother and her grotesque boob job, with the fake boobs so broadly comic that they feel out of place in what's supposed to be a relatively earthbound dramady. They provide easy laughs, but this itself suggests a problem, which is director Shawn Levy's possible reluctance to allow the film to get too serious.
Too often, family intrigue is played for laughs, or the story is interrupted for drawn out comic scenes, such as a ridiculously broad pot-smoking interlude complete with everyone turning into a cackling moron (only in the movies) and a super annoying rabbi character that could have been excised without much worry. Comedy-drama is tough to pull off, but it feels like no one was really sure what direction to go in, with the laughs likely being added to ensure the film is sellable as a comedy. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU would have likely gone over much better with lower-key humor.
To be fair to Levy and his film, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU isn't terrible, and it's relatively slick and inoffensive, so it should find an appreciative audience. It just feels like TIFF probably wasn't the best place to see it, as there are other movies playing like WHILE WE'RE YOUNG that adopt a similar tone, but do it much better.
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