Family Ties and Family Lies
Hanging with the family can be half fun / half mind bending. While it’s always worthwhile, there’s bound to be some sort of drama. Funerals take it to another level. Tension, sadness and grief can bring confrontations to a boiling point. It can also provide the biggest laughs you’ve ever had in your life. In This Is Where I Leave You, director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) takes that premise and runs with it. Despite a dependency on a number of corny cliché’s, This Is Where I Leave You rises one notch above mediocrity with some fun performances by a standout cast.
In Leave, life has hit the fan for Judd Altman (Jason Bateman). After catching his wife knocking boots with his boss (Dan Shepard), Judd heads home for his father’s funeral. But this isn’t a simple grieve and go. Thanks to his dad’s final wishes, Judd and his family have to stay for a week. As the days go on and the family argues, causes trouble and re-connects, Judd learns a bit more about himself and the people he holds most dear.
Setup much like the vastly superior Death at a Funeral (the British 2007 version), Leave takes a shaky concept and stretches it to the absolute limit. It’s a bit bi-polar. For every solid gag like a broadcast sex act over a baby monitor and pot smoking at temple, there’s a scene lifted straight from the rom-com playbook. It may have been written with a knowing wink but the execution falls flat. Some smart story choices prevent Leave from becoming a total ball of cheese, but the world didn’t need another scene of two potential lovers ice skating to Cyndi Lauper.
The story also suffers from “too much, too quickly.” With one mother, four siblings and a slew of neighbors and past relations, it’s hard to keep the family ties in order. While this probably worked in Jonathan Trooper’s novel, the film gives us two hours to learn the inter-relational playbook. There’s too much going on and as a result, nothing gets fully developed. It doesn’t help the ending is so corny and out of left field, it should have come with a “wah-wah-waaaahhhh” trombone sound.
Luckily, the humor is delivered by a better than average cast. Jason Bateman, with dry wit and rhythmic delivery, nails the role of a downtrodden brother and husband. The family ranges from good to great: Tina Fey (my pick for funniest woman in the world) is exceptional as his sister while Jane Fonda is a perfect doting mother. On the flip side, Corey Stoll doesn’t have much to do as Judd’s stay at home sibling and Adam Driver is obnoxious as Judd’s man-child younger brother.
When all is said and done, the point of a comedy is to make you laugh and in that respect, This Is Where I Leave You is a moderate success. I had more than a few chuckles at the antics of the Altman family and for a movie designed for date nights and Saturday afternoon cable, that’s more than enough. At least it’ll make your family seem a little more normal.
Score 6.5 out of 10